Venice – Behind the Mask

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

I’m a collector of masks. On display in my home are over 30 masks carefully carted back as my treasures from visits to faraway lands. So naturally, heading to Venice, I was keen on picking up a few Venice masks to add to my collection. I timed my visit to be there during the last three days of the Carnival of Venice so as to soak up the energy and color of this annual affair.

I was not disappointed.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

Even before the sun was up, there were costumed revelers purposefully wandering about in very elaborate costumes totally coordinated from head to toe – no detail left undone. From shoes to purses to gloves to elaborate headdresses (maybe even underwear although I have no proof) – all was perfectly in sync.  These masked figures moved silently through St. Mark’s Square with a distinct air of mystery –not even the pair of eyes staring back at me revealed anything about the person behind the Venice masks.

Venice – Behind the Mask

I was hungry to know more about the history behind Carnival, the costumes, and the Venice masks. It felt like every other store in this enchanting Italian city was heaped with masks for sale, many of these being cheap plastic knockoffs made in China. I did a bit of homework prior to setting off for Venice and came across a few websites of traditional Venetian mask shops and then I struck gold.  Ca’ Mana Venezia, a traditional Venice masks shop dating back to 1984, offered mask making workshops. This was my ticket! I would make my own mask through their one-hour course entitled the “ABC of Decoration of a Paper Mache Mask”.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

Venice – Behind the Mask

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

Prior to the start of my workshop, I met with Davide Belloni, whose father started Ca ’Mana, to chat up about the history of the Venice masks. The Carnival of Venice dates back to the 12th century, where elaborate dress and masks were an integral part of this celebration.  Venice masks were part of the early day theater.  To my surprise, I would learn that the mask was also worn as part of the everyday life for the Venetians up until the 17th century when they were outlawed.  The Venice masks were a way to hide your identity and social status.  More importantly, the mask gave these Venetians the freedom to engage in all sorts of hanky-panky. From what I gathered, there was plenty of naughtiness going on with the nobility in these early days of Venice.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

Ca’ Mana’s claim to fame is the fact that their Venice masks were used in the movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Davide explained to me that because each mask is made by hand, using traditional methods of paper mâché, no two are exactly alike.  He went into detail on a few specific masks.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds! The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

Venice – Behind the Mask

The Moretta or Muta mask was worn exclusively by women as an erotic enticement.

Creative Commons – Annette Dubois

This black velvet oval mask with two eye holes covered the oval of the face; it was held in place by the woman biting down on a small button inside the mask. Women who wore this mask sported a dress cut very low and square across the breasts so as to show off her cleavage. This particular mask is no longer in use at the Carnival today, although there were plenty of women wandering around stuffed into costumes that revealed ample and visible cleavage!

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

The Bauta mask, originally a simple, stark white mask, covered the face down to the mouth and was characterized by a very pronounced nose. The Bauta, ending at the cheek, allowed the wearer to talk, eat and drink.

One of the most eerie masks I saw during the Carnival is the Medico della peste, or plague doctor mask with a very pronounced long white beak.   It was designed by a 17th-century French physician as a way to prevent the spread of disease.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!


Venice – Behind the Mask

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

After learning about the rather spicy history of Venice as related to masks, I was ready to create my own. There were over 50 handmade paper mâché models to choose from. Under the guidance of Tiziana, the bubbly workshop instructor, I would learn the techniques available for blending and painting on my mask.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

I made my mask selection, chose my colors and technique, tied on a plastic apron and went to work with the paints and brushes that were laid out for me. I worked, reworked and played with the colors until Tiziana coached me into finishing, as my allotted hour was long past. After a coat of varnish, followed by blow drying my creation, Tiziana suggested embellishing the mask with feathers as a final touch. Out came a box brimming with the goods, and another box of buttons to finish out my work of art.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

Venice – Behind the Mask

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

It is worth seeking out these traditional mask shops in Venice to admire and appreciate this art form. The creativity of these artisans is simply amazing – some masks are adorned with beautiful paintings or photographs, some with beads, feathers, buttons, lace, gold and silver leaf, metal – there is simply no limit to the imagination. If you’re lucky, you might wander into a shop where the artisan is at work creating a one-of-a-kind piece.  Such was the case when I stepped into BlueMoon.  Alberto Jimenez, who has been crafting masks for 28 years, was hard at work applying gold leaf to a torso shaped mask.

The collector of Masks makes her way to Venice - Behind the Mask is what she finds!

As I wandered the narrow canal-lined streets of this much loved Italian city, I secretly wished to be a masked time traveler and experience this place in all its glorious, mysterious and naughty days. Oh Venice – you mischievous, mystical city on water – the more I learn about you, the more I love you!

Where to Find a Mask Class: Ca’ Mana Venice

The one hour workshop with Ca’ Mana is available Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm. It is suggested you call in advance in order to confirm the availability of the workshop, although walk-ins are very welcome.

Cost is approximately $50. There is also an option for a private two-hour class with the creation of two masks, best suited for families or groups.  This needs to be booked in advance.

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Disclosure: Ca’ Mana Venice gave the writer a discounted price for the class. All other expenses paid by the writer.



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  1. Jeanette March 16, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Those masks are beautiful and I love that history behind them! I would love to learn how make a mask like these here!

    • Cacinda Maloney March 16, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Mask history and Venice masks are very interesting!

  2. Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle March 16, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    That’s a really interesting read! I’ve always been a big mask lover. I’ve never seen this side of them before.

    • Cacinda Maloney March 16, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      I know, right? We love Venice Masks at PointsandTravel!

  3. Jenn March 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    What a great experience. I love participating in experiences like that!! Beautiful masks!!

    • Cacinda Maloney March 16, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks! We love those Venice Masks!

  4. Bill Sweeney March 16, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Venice Masks are amazing. I’ve seen masks from all sorts of different cultures, but Venice Masks are the ones that always impress me the most.

  5. Joely Smith March 16, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    I would love to do this! I used to collect masks but that was long ago. Collecting masks, or anything can be so joyful. The stories behind them are the best!

  6. Ann Bacciaglia March 16, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    These masks are all so cool. This would be such a fun workshop. I have a collection of masks.

  7. My Teen Guide March 16, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    I’m glad that you had fun experience to see these amazing mask, glad to know also their few historical story in every mask.

  8. Victoria Heckstall March 16, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    These masks are interesting and I loved the history of Venice masks! These are beautiful masks, thanks for sharing it.

  9. Lisa Favre March 16, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    These masks are such intricate works of art. Love the paint jobs that go into them!

    • Cacinda Maloney March 17, 2017 at 6:22 am

      They are, aren’t they? Just gorgeous!

  10. LoveYouWedding March 17, 2017 at 1:09 am

    These masks are beautiful. I have a friend who loves masks. She will love this.

  11. Oyinkan Ogunleye March 17, 2017 at 3:56 am

    Nice to see how they are made!

  12. Melissa Dixon March 17, 2017 at 7:49 am

    All of these masks are so beautiful! I would love to have a room just to display my favorites!

  13. Stephanie Jeannot March 17, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Wow! These masks are really cool. Perfect for like a Mardi Gras party or maybe a nice masquerade ball.

    • Cacinda Maloney March 18, 2017 at 6:34 am

      I know, aren’t they cool?! I love Venice Masks!

  14. Wildish Jess March 17, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    I use to love masks when I was little. I had a whole collection of them on my wall.

  15. Mike Hinshaw March 18, 2017 at 7:39 am

    I love the template of your mask. You did an excellent job on color, design and form. I do have to say though I don’t understand the allure of the solid black velvet mask. It seems a little drab to this old man, but who am I to question the original meanings. So you would have liked to live in the debauchery days? Never knew that side of you. LOL! Great post my friend. Maybe one day I will make it to Venice! Thanks for sharing.

    • Cacinda Maloney March 18, 2017 at 7:53 am

      I don’t get the BLACK mask thing either, but Mike old friend, this was written by Travel Writer Donnie Sexton!

  16. Donnie Sexton March 18, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    I was like a kid in the candy store – just couldn’t get enough of the mask making – I could have stayed there all day. On a scale of 1 to 10 of great experiences, it easily was a 10!

    • Cacinda Maloney March 19, 2017 at 11:03 am

      And now we hear from the author herself! Everyone, meet Donnie Sexton!

  17. Shaney Vijendranath March 19, 2017 at 4:28 am

    Wow, this is so interesting. I never really looked into it before. These masks are stunning.

  18. Dawn Gibson-Thigpen March 20, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Oh my! These masks are brilliant. Simply amazing!

  19. adriana March 20, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Venice has some of the most beautiful masks I’ve ever seen! We bought some the first time we ever went to Venice, they are gorgeous! So detailed and pretty!

  20. Jenny March 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Those are some really neat pieces. Bet its super fun to make these and be creative.

  21. Alan Cuthbertson April 1, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Wow we didn’t know mask making classes were even available. We only stayed overnight in Venice while waiting for a cruise so would not have had the time. Luckily we are going back this year for a longer stay so will definitely look into this. Thanks for the info my wife will be thrilled.

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