The history of Venetian masks in Italy is as colourful as the masks themselves. The word mask, derived from the Arabic word maskharat, means “clown” or “buffoon”. The earliest reference to masks in the Repubblica di Venezia, traditionally known as La Serenissima (the Most Serene Republic), dates back to the 13th century when a law was passed forbidding men to wear masks and throw perfumed eggs at women.
As captivating as the lagoon city itself, the masks served to conceal the identity and social status of Venetians, creating an equal playing field that enabled a pauper to be a nobleman for a day while indulging in illicit activities. Contributing to moral decay, the wearing of masks was eventually limited to certain months of the year.
Today, masks have become the symbol of the Carnevale Di Venezia, one of the most famous carnivals in the world. This celebration has led to the reinvigoration of the art of Venetian mask making. Mascherari, the artisans who make the masks, were as highly regarded as painters in Venetian society. Traditionally made from paper-machè, masks were decorated with fur, fabric, gems or feathers. Nowadays, Venetian masks are much more elaborate and are hand-painted, using natural feathers and gems for decoration.