Venetian mask making has experienced a rebirth. In the time of the Republic, the mask trade was vibrant—Venetians used masks all year long to go about town incognito—but it was suppressed by Napoléon, a by-product of his effort to end Carnevale and other Venetian holidays. When Carnevale was revived in the late 1970s, mask making returned as well. Though many workshops stick to centuries-old techniques, none has been in business for more than 40 years. A key date in the history of Venetian masks is 1436, when the mascareri (mask makers) founded their guild. By then the techniques were well established: a mask is first modeled in clay, then a chalk cast is made from it and lined with papier-mâché, glue, gauze, and wax. Masks were popular well before the mascareri’s guild was established. Local laws regulating their use appeared as early as 1268, often intended to prevent people from carrying weapons when masked or in an attempt to prohibit the then-common practice of masked men disguised as women entering convents to seduce nuns. Even on religious holidays—when masks were theoretically prohibited—they were used by Venetians going to the theater or attempting to avoid identification at the city’s brothels and Read more

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