Renowned for its history of art, architecture and music, it is hard to find someone who hasn’t fallen in love with Venice. It was the masks that first drew me in: the colours, the intricate, beautiful designs, the feathers and the doll-like delicacy in their features. Carnival masks are a part of the city as much as the canals, gondolas and St Marks Basilica.
The actual wearing of masks in Venice has a chequered history. In the beginning they were allowed to be worn at all major events, bar religious festivals. But in 1339 the wearing of masks was limited to daytime and in 1608 the anonymity and immoral behaviour associated with wearing a mask led to them being banned apart for carnival and banquets.
If you were going to Venice specifically to revel in the wonders of these beautiful works of art, I recommend the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, Carnevale; the Carnival of Venice. Originating in the Middle Ages, the carnival’s popularity declined in the eighteenth century, but was brought back in the 1970s and is now one of Venice’s main tourist attractions – holding the possibility of attending a Masquerade ball, which are held across the city. These can cost up to 500€, including costume hire, and for the more exclusive parties you have to book months in advance. Don’t despair though – the popularity of Carnevale, means that a visit to Piazza San Marco or a gentle stroll around the back-street canals guarantees that you witness the variety and beauty of these costumes and masks in their natural setting, as worn by both locals, tourists and street artists.
Finally, a trip to Venice would not be complete without the purchase of your very own mask. Everywhere you turn in Venice, there are places to purchase masks, from high-end shops to market stalls. I purchased mine from the market on the Rialto Bridge for about 40€ but they vary in price, depending on the size and type of mask you go for. There are so many masks; all with their own unique design that despite anonymity your own voice will still shine through.
Article and Photography: Vicky Timms