The use of the mask dates back to ancient times and its many functions have changed over the centuries as have the materials from which it is made: wood, leather, fabric, papier-mâché. In ancient times it was used for propitiatory and funerary purposes and later it was used for theatrical purposes in Greece and ancient Rome. During the Renaissance, masks became part of social life and the habit of dressing up to take part in social and cultural events became widespread, and even in the theatre the public was masked. It is thought that the mask was introduced in Venice before 1200, during trade with the East. In the Museo Correr in Venice there is an 18th century document that lists the 70 most common masks, professional disguises, but also theatre masks, Commedia dell’arte masks and the larva, a typical 18th century carnival mask. The mask-makers made them with plaster, paper, flour glue, paint, practically the simple materials we still use today. One of the most traditional masks of the 18th century is the Bauta, which was a city dress used in every season by rich and poor alike, only the quality of the fabric changed; it consisted of a cloak with a hood that went down to the shoulders. The larva or face is the mask worn for this disguise, almost always white. The face and the larva were held in place by the tricorno, a three-pointed hat, usually black, which was never taken off, not even to say hello (by the way, when two people met in a calle, on a bridge or in a campiello, they greeted each other by saying “GOOD MORNING LADY MASK!”). It is a neutral mask, without expression, perfect not to reveal anything, and its particular shape allowed to drink and eat without taking it off. Today a papier-mâché model is often made, complete with tricorn, and it is known as Casanova because among the most famous citizens of the Serenissima who wore this disguise was Giacomo Casanova, writer, poet, diplomat, but above all known as a refined seducer and libertine.
Along with the Bauta, there is also the Moretta or Muta, an oval mask covered in black velvet. The moretta originated in France, where ladies wore it to visit nuns in convents. It was later appreciated by Venetian women from all walks of life. This mask was worn by closing a small button on the back of the mask between the lips, so that the ladies could not speak, hence the name Muta. This created an aura of mystery and the lady would reveal her face and speak only after accepting the knight’s courtship. Glimpses of these moments between Bauta and Moretta can be found in Pietro Longhi’s paintings. Bauta and Moretta are often bought together and not only represent a valuable souvenir of Venetian craftsmanship, but are also historically and culturally representative.