HOLIDAYS | Venice Carnival

by Second Nature on May 14, 2024

History of the Venetian Mask

The Venetian mask emerged as a result of the centuries-long development of the Venetian Carnival. Since ancient times, Venetians have used masks to conceal their identities and blend into the crowd, allowing them to freely communicate and participate in various public events. Masks became a symbol of freedom and equality, enabling people from different social strata to interact without prejudice and restrictions.

Types of Venetian Masks


Bauta is one of the most recognizable and traditional Venetian masks. It is usually made of white satin and has a sharp triangular profile with deep indentations for the eyes. Bauta is often accompanied by a cloak and a tricorn hat, creating the complete image of a mysterious stranger.


Volto, also known as "face," is the most neutral of all masks. It mimics the classic shape of the human face and is typically worn with a black cloak and hat. This mask allows one to conceal their identity while maintaining natural facial features.

Venetian Lady

The Venetian Lady mask depicts a noble Venetian woman from the Titian era. It is often adorned with exquisite details and ornaments, symbolizing the wealth and elegance of Venetian aristocracy.


Columbina is a half-mask covering only the upper part of the face. It is often decorated with gold, silver, crystals, and feathers, making it one of the most vibrant and attractive masks. Columbina allows the wearer to remain anonymous while being expressive and festive.


Moretta is an oval female mask made of black velvet. The name Moretta comes from the adjective "moro" (dark), which explains why the mask was always covered with black velvet. However, there is a surprising detail that distinguishes Moretta from all other Venetian carnival masks, associated with its second name — Muta, which translates to "mute." "Heads of families and husbands led their wives and daughters to Piazza [San Marco] to meet with relatives or to the Nunnery Reception. The faces of the women and girls were covered with Moretta [mask] made of black velvet, which enhanced the radiance of their white skin, making the wearer more noticeable." Moretta had no straps and was held in place by a button that the wearer held in her mouth.

Gatto and Gnaga

In contemporary society, there is a widespread, gentle affection towards images of cats. Given that human nature hasn't changed significantly over time, it's plausible that the people of Venice also had a fondness for cats. Thus, the Venetian carnival mask, Gatto, might have been created to embody this affection or to allow people to resemble cats during carnivals. This mask could be worn by both men and women, though it was particularly popular among Venetian women.

Now, let's consider the Gnaga mask. Delving into the more controversial aspects of Venetian history, the Gnaga mask was exclusively worn by men of non-traditional sexual orientation. Unlike the Gatto mask, the Gnaga mask lacks cat ears, has a distinctly different nose shape and cheek structure, and only a slight similarity in the shape of the eye holes. Additionally, the Gnaga mask features a beauty mark above the eyebrow, which the Gatto mask does not have.


Venetian masks are not just costume elements but an important part of Venice's cultural heritage. They embody the spirit of the carnival, freedom of expression, and social equality. Each type of mask has its unique features and history, making them an indispensable part of Venetian culture and traditions.