History of Masks

History of Venetian masks:

Masks are almost as old as mankind.  While they have a magical attraction to the observer and those who wear them, their initial intent was to provoke awe, terror and laughter.  Throughout history, masks have been used in many ways: as a prop in cult rituals, ceremonies, or to guard against accidents, spells and evil spirits.  In Venice, masks played a major role in everyday life and the first records of carnivals date back to the year 1286.  At first, wearing masks in public was prohibited beyond the carnival with the exception of nobility, who were allowed to incorporate the masks into their private parties.  By the 1500’s, morality did not exist in Venice and people started wearing the masks to cover their faces as women wore deep necklines and revealed their breasts.  Men wore the masks to conceal their identities as well and as a result anonymity was secured.  While they wore the masks, people were able to commit immoral acts all while remaining anonymous.  Hedonistic, immoral and extravagant behavior in the Venetian republic lasted all the way until its prohibition in 1797 by Napoleon.  It wasn’t until about two centuries later, in 1980, that there was a rebirth of the traditional and historic masks.


Creating the mask:

Masks are traditionally made of leather but more commonly of woolen paper.  To make each mask, a clay model is produced after which liquid plaster is poured and hardened.  The plaster is then coated with a medium such as Vaseline, which is meant to prevent the paper from sticking.  Masks are prepared with two or three layers of paper, depending on the size of the mold, and are left until they completely dry.  The mask is then further processed to include specific designs prior to being painted.  In order to protect the mask, it is imperative that it be coated with a clear varnish.