Canival masks in Venice

A carnival mask shop in Venice
Comedia dell'Arte classic Canivale masks at a shop in Venice. (Photo by Christine Zenino)

Shopping for Carnival masks in Venice

Fabulously decorated, often distinctly creepy, and instantly recognizable, the Veneitian masks worn at Carnvale are designed to hide the true identiy of the wearer, allowing the upper and lower classes to mix and assignations to occur without identification, thus avoiding scandal.

Carnevale masks were traditionally made of leather, porcelain, or even glass, though most these days are either gesso/papier-mâché or leather, decorated with gems, feathers, and much gilded frippery.

There are many classic Carnival masks in Venice:

  • The Plague Doctor: The long-beaked Medico della Pesta mask is, indeed, based upon one worn by 17th century plague doctors—sort of an early version of a surgical mask. It is usually accompanied by a Renaissance plague doctor's costume: Long black cloak, white gloves, and a stick with which to poke contagious patients.
  • Bauta: With a heavy brow and long, blank chin projecting out slightly with no mouth, this mask was originally designed to be worn by officials when they had to attend events where discussion and voting was to be anonymous (the airy space under the chin piece was so they could eat and drink without removing the mask). The Bauta, too, is usually accompanied by a certain costume: A tricorn hat and a black or red cape.
  • Volto (sometimes called Larva, Latin for "ghost"), a blank, full-faced mask that—unlike the open-at-the-bottom Bauta—covers the entire face and cheeks, including the chin.
  • Colombina: This is the famous little eye-mask, usually on a stick. Though named for yet another stock Commedia dell'Arte character, this mask is actually a modern addition to the Carnvale costume scene.

In additon, many of the stock characters from the Commedia dell'Arte stage have been added to the mix of popular masks at the modern Carnival:

  • The sad old man Pantaleone.
  • The cheeky servent Arlecchino, with wide eyes, arched eyebrows, and a blunt nose.
  • The hook-nosed, often frowny Pulcinella.
  • The slope-browed idiot Zanni with a long, drooping nose upturned at the end.

Where to buy Carnival masks and costumes in Venice

Every souvenir shop in Venice carries Carnvale masks, but most are mass-produced in China.

At Carnevale (Carnival) time, real Venetians don masks made by the following true local artisans.

Expect a good mask to start around €30–€60—though they can cost way, way more.

  • Laboratorio Artigiano Maschere, Barbaria delle Tole 6657 (Castello), tel. +39-041-522-3110.
  • Tragicomica, Calle dei Nomboli 2800 (San Polo), tel. +39-041-721-102,
  • Ca' del Sol, Fondamenta Osmarin 4964 (Castello), tel. +39-528-5549,
  • Ca’ Macanà, Calle delle Botteghe 3172 (Dorsoduro) tel. +39-041-277-6142,
  • Papier Maché, Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa 5174/b (Castello), tel. +39-041-522-9995,
  • Bluemoon Venice, Fondamenta Sant'Eufemia 607 (Giudecca), tel. +39-041-715-175,

Where to buy or rent traditional Carnival cloaks, capes, and costumes:

  • Pietro Longhi, Ramo Seconda dei Saoner 2608, off Rio Terà Cazza (San Polo), tel. +39-041-714-478, (Rentals, too.)
  • Tragicomica, Calle dei Nomboli 2800 (San Polo), tel. +39-041-721-102,
  • Banco Lotto N°10, Salizata Sant’Antonin 3478a (Castello), tel. +39-041-522-1439, (Retnals, too. All outfits sewn by prisoners as part of rehab program.)
  • Monica, Calle del Scaleter 2235 (San Polo), tel. +39-041-524-6242,

Tips & links


Take tour: Take a customized shopping tour of Venice:


Don't be afraid to bargain, especially if you're buying more than one item.

Let them mail it home for you

They have loads of experience packing delicate masks so they do not break.

Would you really carry the thing around in your bag from hotel to hotel, running with it to catch trains and slinging it into the trunk of your rental car, only then to entrust your papier-mache mask to the airline baggage handlers? Nope.

Accept the shipping cost as part of the price of buying..

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