People in Italy look forward to the time every year when then can don a festive mask and join in the celebration of Carnevale. The excitement that Carnevale brings is further enhanced with the myriad types of masks that can be seen during the event. With their elaborate and colourful designs, it’s no wonder that people highly anticipate this popular annual celebration.

A Brief History of Carnevale

The history of Carnevale stretches all the way back to the 11th century when it was first celebrated in Venice in 1094. Due to its popularity throughout Europe, it was eventually sanctioned as an official celebration in 1296. Since then, it has been celebrated somewhat consistently, with only a few gaps throughout history – such as in 1798 during the Austrian conquest of Venice and in the 1930s when it was banned by Mussolini.

This event was essentially a way for people of all social classes to mingle with one another. The wearing of masks ensured anonymity and did not restrict anyone due to their inherent age, class or religion. The first masks used were rather simple in design, but usually had a symbolic meaning behind them. Back then, they were made from leather, porcelain or glass, and have evolved nowadays to make use of hand-painted gesso or paper mache.

Types of Masks and Their Uses

Venetian Carneval masks can be categorized into two general categories: the Commedia dell’Arte, which commonly depicts classic characters like Harlequin and Pierrot, and the traditional Venetian masks.

Arlecchino – this mask portrays one of the most popular comedic servant characters in the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. The mask itself is depicted to have a joker-like appearance, with a short nose and arched eyebrows. It is usually paired with flamboyant accessories, such as a large headpiece or a high collar with bells. This makes the mask perfect for those who want to be seen as a prankster or a comedian.

Columbina – this mask is another comical mask that portrays a female servant that is the counterpart of Arlecchino. Its features are actually that of a half-mask that only covers the eyes, cheeks and nose and is often heavily decorated. Wearers of this mask are typically women who aren’t afraid to show off their true personality. However, male versions of the Columbina mask have been surfacing in recent years, offering men an option to wear a lighter mask than the more traditional full-faced ones.

Pantalone – derived from a classic character in Italian theater, the mask exudes a light air of wit and intelligence. The look of the mask itself is quite comical; it features a long, hooked nose and slanted eyes. Those who wear the mask tend to be very conversant within a group and can easily make friends. It can be worn in any occasion, but is commonly seen in masked balls or cocktail parties where there is a need to mingle with the crowd.

Bauta – another famous mask that is common throughout Carnevale, the Bauta is commonly used when there is a need to hide one’s identity or social status. The mask is square-shaped and is usually plain, further accenting its use as a disguise. The lower half is also slanted outwards, allowing the wearer to eat or drink without having to remove it. Those who want to anonymously go to an event while keeping an air of mystery tend to choose this mask.

Medico della peste – also known as the plague mask, it takes its name sake historically from its use during the plague outbreaks of the 14th to the 17th century. Plague doctors would wear these masks to protect themselves from disease. Its design consists of a mask with a long hollow beak and round eyes. It is usually simple and rarely ornate, but there are some designs that make use of highlights like crystals for its eyes. It’s common to see these during summer parties or on Halloween, worn by people who have a penchant for the unusual or the strange.

Volto – a simple looking mask that covers the entire face, it gives the wearer complete anonymity with the mask’s plain features. It is also known as the Citizen mask since it was worn by common folk back in ancient times during an event. For those looking to avoid being recognized at a party, then this is the perfect mask to don for the occasion.