Italy: The Masks of Carnevale di Venezia

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Each February marks the beginning of Venice’s carnival, an ancient open-air festival, rooted in local tradition and commemorating the end of winter before Lent. The festivities fill the winding streets and open squares of Venice, creating a lively and engaging celebratory atmosphere that takes hold of the entire city.

One of the most popular traditions of the Carnival are the handcrafted, artisan masks. Venetian masks have a long history separate from their use during Carnival. Masks were worn by members of all circles of society as a means of protecting or hiding one’s identity and thus allowing all Venetians the chance to be equals. Over time, an abuse of the anonymity granted by the masks grew and the government banned the wearing of masks with the exception of certain times of the year, including Carnival. Crafted today by the same methods of ancient artisans, the masks are formed from papier-mâché then hand-painted and decorated. The colorful and sometimes exceedingly ornate masks bring as much mystery as they do elegance to the festival.