In 1162 Doge Vitale Michieli triumphed
over Ulrich II of Treven
and an annual celebration to commemorate the occasion was commenced. The first
documented usage of Venetian masks in conjunction with the annual celebration was in
As Venice grew in
popularity as a tourist destination through the middle ages the city became
known as a pleasure palace. During this period the popularity of masks grew as
prominent social figures dawned disguises to conceal their identities as they
performed unscrupulous and immoral acts in pursuit of carnal
the 16th through 18th century Venetian Masks became the signature of the
Commedia Dell'arte. The Commedia Dell'arte were popular plays in the form of
improvisational theater that were performed by theater companies that traveled
the Italian peninsula producing comedies involving the topics of adultery,
jealousy, and love.
of Venice's popular mask forms such as the Capitano, the Paglianccio(clown), the
Pulcinella (the mascot of Naples), and Zanni (the threadbare old servant of
Venice) were shaped in character in the traveling road show known as the
On October 17, 1797
Venice became part of the Kingdom of the Lombardy-Venetia (Austria). When the
Austrians took control of the city masked celebrations were outlawed.
:-( Venetian masks faded into obscurity.
The tradition of mask making was not rekindled
until 1979 when some undergraduate art students revived the tradition in an effort
to profit from the tourism trade in the city. And a successful endeavor it
turned out to be. In less than 30 years the artisan profession has flourished
and now masks and Venice are synonymous.
The history of the Venetian Mask is nearly as
colorful as the masks themselves.