The history of masks and the Carnival's laws
Venetian masks were used to hide and protect their wearer's identity during promiscuous or decadent activities, but they became also the symbol of transgression and freedom from the severe social rules imposed by the Serenissima Republic.
The original Venetian masks were rather simple in design and decoration and they often had a symbolic and practical function.
Masks were often used to protect gamblers from giving away indiscrete looks, especially to avoid their creditors, or by "barnaboti" noblemen who went banrupt, begging on street corners.
From the early 14th century, new restrictive laws started to be promulgated by the Venice Government, to stop the relentless moral decline of the Venetian people.
This carnival legislation proscribed masqueraders at night, forbade men from entering convents dressed as women to commit "multas inhonestates" and forbade masqueraders from carrying arms or entering churches.
To restore morality in Venice and to avoid the incentive of immoral behavior of its citizens, the Republic obliged them to wear a mask only during the days of carnival and at official banquets.
Masks were allowed from the day after Christmas, which marked the beginning of the Venetian Carnival, to Shrove Tuesday which marked its end, but were forbidden during religious feasts.
As well as during the Carnival period, Venetians wore masks during the fortnight of the Ascension, and ended up wearing it, with a few exceptions, half-way through June.
During all major events, such as official banquets or other celebrations of the Serenissima Republic, was permitted to wear a mask and a cloak.
The use of masks by both Venetians and foreign visitors during
Carnival, created a demand for masks and consequently contributed to
the evolution of the figure of the mask-makers, mascareri, registered artisans who created and sold masks in papier-mâché.
Masks were produced for centuries in Venice by the mascareri and still today are made from papier-mâché, in many different colors and styles and decorated with fur, fabric, gems, or ribbons.