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What Materials Were the First Masks
at The Venice Carnival Made Out Of?

An equally subversive and individualistic expression of identity, the masks associated with the famous carnival of Venice, Italy each have a different meaning and background associated with them though their construction is largely the same.

Thought to originally be worn as a way to subvert class structure, the masks actually have a hierarchy themselves though modern revelers are, for the most part, unaware of this fact.

Mask makers themselves were protected by a guild back in the early days of the carnival with the so-called mascherari providing the vast majority of the earliest masks.


Today, the industry is still largely dominated by handcrafted masks when it comes to the best examples though there are factory-made masks that are composed of different materials and of typically inferior quality.

Historically, carnival masks were made out of leather, porcelain, or the original glass technique.

Modern masks in Venice tend to be made of gesso and gold leaf and incorporate natural feathers and gemstones into their designs. Masks can also incorporate other pieces of costume into their design for a more impressive effect with the Casanova and Tricorno Tarocchi Uomo providing excellent examples of this style.

At the highest end of the mask hierarchy is the full-face, traditional bauta. This is always white in color and is worn with a tricorn hat and a black or red cape. Not to be confused with the plague doctor mask also popularly associated with carnival, the bauta is distinguished by its elongated, semi-grotesque features whereas the plague doctor mask has a bird-like appearance.

The Colombina, so named for a stock character in a popular play, is a more modern version of the carnival mask and, while associated with it in popular culture, it is not recorded in Venetian history until more recently.

A derivative of the visard mask from France, the moretta (meaning dark one) or servetta muta (meaning mute servant woman) is a black oval mask with large eyeholes that covers the entirety of the face and is often shown being worn by women of the aristocracy.


The volto mask, classically associated with men, is now worn by women and is distinguished from the bauta by its natural depiction of the face and gold gilding. Like the bauta, it is often worn with a tricorn hat and a cape. Other popular mask types include the pantalone, arlecchino, and zanni.