Many couples visiting Venice, either for their wedding, honeymoon, engagement or holiday travel, keep special memories of a typical Venetian tradition: wearing Carnival masks. While strolling along the alleys and crossing bridges, perhaps during a photo walk, you can see them in little shops spread all over the city, sporting rich decorations or simple, perfect lines.
Venetian masks are indeed the precious hand-made products of excellent Venetian craftsmanship, which mirrors the city’s historical developments and common uses. Venetian people used to wear masks not only during the Carnival time: laws dating back to the 13th centuries show that libertines and gamblers wore them to perform jokes, chasing women (including priests chasing nuns in monasteries!) and visiting gambling houses and brothels. “Buongiorno Siora Maschera!” (Good Morning Ms Mask!) was the typical greeting used in the alleys and along the channels, showing that identity, social classes and profession did not matter any longer when wearing a mask.
The Republic of Venice tried to stop these dissolute habits by limiting their use to special periods (Carnival, Saint Stephen’s Day, official banquets, public celebrations, etc.) and banning it in worship places and for specific “professions” (such as prostitutes and gamblers).
Since the 15th century Venetian masks were manufactured by special artisans called “mascherieri” which belonged to the painters’ profession. In the late 18th century there were 12 official masks workshops in Venice, and, since the market was growing (the use of wearing masks spread even abroad), they began manufacturing black masks in order to make the process easier and increase production.
It still takes a long, complex process to manufacture a typical Venetian mask with papier-mâché: try to avoid buying those made of paperboard, ceramics, or other materials which are enough resistant to be hung but not to be worn.
Among the oldest and most common masks one find a simple white model with a long nose which was worn together with a black mantel to make up the “Bauta” costume. Women used to wear the “Moretta”: an oviform velvet mask, often enriched with veils and kept in place by a button on clenched teeth.
During my work as a professional photographer in Venice I had many couples visiting masks shops during their engagement, wedding or honeymoon photo services: they really enjoyed playing with masks during a photo walk in Venice and some of them even treated themselves with a couple photo portrait in costumes during Carnival: a nice experience which I recommend to everyone!
For further examples of photo shootings in Venice see my website.