Our Party requires you to come dressed for the occasion! Well this is after all an erotic masked ball, so you can dress erotically and you must wear your mask. We are aiming for authenticity here, so ideally choose a masquerade mask that has been made by Venetians. If you already have a venetian mask then that is fine, however you may wish to consider that half-masks may be preferable especially as you may want to drink and eat wearing your mask.
Venetian Masks History
Venetian Masks have the most extraordinary history. In 1500 for example there were 12,000 prostitutes, almost a tenth of the population and they were fighting a losing battle against competition from male prostitutes. In 1511 an eminent Venetian came forward to energetically defend before government the rights of these poor women who were losing their clients. This person was the bishop himself! The government response was equally incredible. To encourage heterosexual encounters, they ruled to allow women to show themselves half-naked at the windows of their homes. Still today in the San Casiano area there is a Bosom Bridge (“Ponte delle tette”) and a Bosom Street (“Fondamenta delle tette”). The growth of homosexuality in Venice was also fueled by a particular type of mask; the ‘Gnaga’. This mask was originally designed for men to disguise themselves as women. It is also important to remember that laws all over Europe at that time violently repressed homosexuality. In Venice the punishment was hanging, followed by burning at the stake.
Nobody knows when they started wearing masks, but the first law regulating the use of masks dates back to the 13th Century. What we do know is that this all ended some 500 years later in the 18th Century. Before that the law allowed for masks to be worn for most of the year apart from during Advent and Lent. Venice was an aristocratic republic, that is to say that a certain kind of democracy was effective only within the upper classes, while ordinary people had no say in government. Venetian nobles were not fat and idle feudal landlords, they were merchants who often risked their riches and their own lives on a daily basis on ships which were bound to trade in the mysterious east.
Adventure for them was a way of life, they therefore created a city which offered all types of adventure, in every sense of the word. Carnival and masks everywhere represented absence of rules and freedom of action. You can do everything you want when you hide behind them, and adventure is possible again. Games of chance in Venice were a bit like a “national sport”, but in the state casino (the “Ridotto”) you could only play if you were masked.
Aristocrats, who would usually go to great lengths not to disclose even a clue of their sexual preferences, were able to wear masks and star in acts that back then were not only sinful but also against the law. Even gamblers wore masks to remain anonymous, lest great personal wins and/or losses of money or possessions would be known by the community. As you might imagine, for some, the wearing of masks was almost necessary!
The Venice environment, because of it’s crowded city conditions, didn’t really allow for much seclusion or solitude; individual anonymity or privacy was difficult to come by. Thus, the “mask” became an outlet for many to depart from the mainstream life they were leading. The average citizen found that by wearing a mask they could act like a stranger, revealing their real persona, which they normally kept to themselves to avoid being judged by others.
Sadly, there were some greedy characters who would use the “mask” to their benefit the frequent masquing events throughout the year to specifically engage in various illegal and immoral acts.
In 1268, the city’s governing bodies, in an attempt to control masquerading, voted for the first of many city statutes that would ultimately ban brutal and aggressive acts, the waste of valuable fabrics, forbidden visits to convents and unlawful ownership of weapons. These types of ordinances would continue being passed right up until the fall of the Venetian Serenissima Republic in 1797.
The Moretta or Muta
(The Mask as Erotic Enticement)
Mysterious and intriguing: these are the reasons there was much success with this mask, the so called Moretta (meaning “Dark”, because of its color).
Used only by women, the mask was kept in place by a button, held between the teeth.
Rather uncomfortable for sure, but that’s the way fashion has always been. The silence to which these women were forced specially pleased the male counterpart … maybe the venetian women were considered to be too talkative? Or perhaps this was a further method of disguise as their voices could reveal their true identity.
According to Adriano Mariuz, the moretta fell out of fashion about 1760, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Venetian women were not at all prudish and made no attempt to conceal their bodies. The venetian décolleté, particularly in the 16th century was very popular in Venice.