Call it Carnivale, Mardi Gras, or just a costume ball, but if the occasion calls for beautiful, period Venetian costumes, the look is not complete without an Italian masquerade mask. Whether you want something simple but elegantly seductive or an elaborate piece straight out of the Renaissance period, it won't be difficult to find exactly what you're looking for.
History of Italian Masquerade Masks
Dating to the 12th century, Venetian masks served the purpose of disguising their medieval wearers from judgmental eyes so that they could enjoy pre-Lenten feasts and festivals. Everyone enjoyed anonymity, the commingling of the classes, and even the clergy might be able to go dancing.
Maskmakers were important artisans and operated under their own guild. Masks were designed to cover the whole face and most often were made of papier-mâché and decorated with gold leaf, gems and feathers. They could be as simple or elaborate as the user wished and always conveyed an exciting air of mystery.
Buying Italian Masquerade Masks
Most modern masks only cover the eyes and nose, although of course you can still get a full face mask if you so desire. Bear in mind a full mask will make eating and communicating difficult, which might defeat the point of a party.
If you want something very authentic, look no further than Mask Italia, which specializes in handmade Italian masks. The masks are elaborate and beautiful, but the prices can be high because of the quality craftsmanship. Fortunately, they all make excellent art for the walls as well. Some examples include:
- Cignetta: A half-mask with a laser-cut swan curling high over the right eye and featuring Austrian crystals. Colors include black, black and gold, light blue and silver, purple and gold and bastone silver and black.
- Farfallina Arlecchino: A half-mask with a Harlequin pattern.
- Farfallina Black/White: A black half-mask with a sexy white design surrounding the eyes, very evocative of illuminations.
- Jolly Maschere: One of their best-sellers, this full-face jester mask replete with beads, bells and paper scrolls and featuring Commedia dell'Arte characters is a guaranteed head-turner.
- Farfallina Jolly Maschere: If you want the same stirring look as the mask above, but need the practicality of a half-mask, this is a fine choice.
- Naso: Classic Italian masks were worn to be mysterious and seductive, but they could also just be funny. The Naso is a half-mask with a long pointed nose, music accents and red paint with gold leaf.
- Colombina: While most masks were worn strapped to the face, it was also popular to carry masks on a stick and occasionally show someone who you really were. This enticing mask in bastone black surrounded by black feathers will allow you to tease with abandon.
Cheaper Italian Masquerade Masks
If you want something authentic and don't want to spend more than $50, try Anytime Costumes. The masks are all papier-mâché, many with a metallic paper lay to give them sheen and the appearance of heft, while they remain lightweight and easy to wear. Prices range from $30-$70 and all masks are lovely enough to display on the wall.
If you want the traditional look of Venetian masquerade masks and prefer to spend less, try Amazon. Their range is moderate, but they still carry some attractive, traditional masks for prices as low as $12. If you find a mask isn't as ornate as you'd like, jazz it up with your own embellishments. Add sequins, feathers, checks in black or red and white or whatever else strikes your fancy and matches your masquerade costume.