Masks and Disguises

During the carnival, Venetians used to dress up in the oddest of ways. A document with the strange title of "Different ways of dressing up for carnival introduced by both men and women alike during the 18th century" lists the different costumes in use. Here are but a few:

  • as a fisherman with his fishing-rod

  • as a Turk with a pipe or sceptre

  • as Gnaga with a baby or a cat or a dog wrapped in swaddling clothes

  • as Buranello

  • as Tracagnan

  • as Brighella

  • as The Doctor

  • as Covielo

  • as a lawyer with papers

  • as Scoacamin

  • as Pulcinella (with a ? of macaroni)

  • as a lackey

  • as a Spaniard

  • as a weeping Jew

  • as a demon

  • as a hunter with a fake gun

  • as a trembling, gouty old man

  • as a Gallic invalid

  • as an Armenian

  • as a Satyr

  • as a kitchen-gardener with hat and basket

  • as a peasant-girl

  • as an old peasant widow

  • as a baker

  • as Piero

  • as Mattacino

  • as a butcher

  • as a king with his sceptre

  • as a medical doctor

  • as masqueraders on stilts

  • as a collier

  • as a street-vendor

  • as an astrologer

  • as a Pyrenese sailor

  • as Amazoni

  • as Moro

  • as street assassins

  • as armed soldiers

  • as masqueraders wearing suits of copper coins

  • as a chained dancing bear

El Medico dea Peste (The Plague Doctor)

One of the worst scourges for the city of Venice was without any doubt the Plague, which struck the city on several occasions. Because of this the "Plague Doctor" isn't a real mask but was a disguise used by local plague doctors who...


This mask is one of the most disputed being defined as a "lurid popular caricature". It represents a lousy old man showing the sores of youth's excesses and the syphilis which consumes him or a man covered in bloody threadbare rags...

Arlecchino (Harlequin)

Born in the stagnant areas of lower Bergamo, quite the opposite of his compatriot Brighella, he shows little intellect, is stupid, greedy and credulous. Harlequin is always dressed as a humble serf or a porter as in Carlo Goldoni's...


This was a very simple form of dress and thus was very popular with the Venetians. Young Venetians would dress up as women imitating their ways but using much more vulgar speech. Chronicles of the day reveal that many young Venetians dressed in...

Omo Selvadego (The Wild Man)

The "Wild Man" costume was easy enough to make. It was sufficient to wear a fur and a hat with a few twigs in it to be transformed into a wild man armed with a stick and a rough manner of speech.

El Capitan (The Captain)

The origins of this mask, common in the commedia dell'arte, in that its root go back to the Roman theatre (Miles gloriosus di Plauto). It is the mask of a boastful, vainglorious, big-talking soldier. It has its origins in popular satire against...


In the commedia dell'arte, a malicious yet charming servant-girl, a comical character not always a mirror of virtue like her eternal suitor Harlequin, Colombine is likeable on account of her coquetry and feminine shrewdness. She is also known...

El Dotor (The Doctor)

Of Bolognese origins, the doctor represent the comical personage of a "Doctor" only by name - sometimes a medical doctor, sometimes a notary or a presumptuous lawyer. Almost certainly this mask comes from Bologna University, which his...

Pantalone (Pantaloon)

This is the best-known of the Venetian masks. From its first appearance amongst the theatrical commedia dell'arte companies, Pantaloon "the Magnificent" spoke in unadulterated Venetian dialect. It is said his name derives from San...

The Mattacino

Mattacino is a sort of clown who wears a feathered hat and a light, short frock that is either white or multi-colored. It is though the word comes from "mattinate" (matinées) which young patricians in convoys of boats used to perform...

Pulcinella (Punch)

This is a Neapolitan mask originating in Campania whose physical aspect make it look like a cockerel. The nose has the form of a beak which ancients called "pullus gallinaceus" It is thought the etymology of the word derives from the...

Sior Tonin Bonagrazia

This character was created by Carlo Goldoni in 1745 and represents the son of a Venetian merchant who had bought for 10 ducats, less than the cost of a donkey, the nobility of Torcello for his own stupid son. The mask had little success in the...