The Italian Renaissance was a period of art and invention. During this time the masquerade masks gained popularity being worn at balls and social celebrations. These events were held by upper class individuals of high society and were elaborate in style. The masquerade mask was used in these settings as a form of disguise. This disguise would allow one to speak freely with people outside of their social circle – something that was inappropriate within the higher classes.
As time continued wealthier individuals became less approving of the masquerade masks, the idea of lower class and upper class persons socialising became discomforting. Furthermore, the increase in anonymous sexual affairs and illicit financial transactions acted as an additional deterrent.
The original type of mask was primarily white and made of plaster or paper mache. Today we see various types of masquerade masks made from several kinds of material including fabric and leather. The masquerade mask is available in a plethora of colours with bold, daring decorations. The four main mask styles are: the stick mask, the head mask, the full face mask, and the half face mask. All four of these can be worn by men, women, and children.
The full face mask design covers the entire face from hair line to neck. Although it provides maximum identity concealment, it is also incredibly cumbersome. As is with all masquerade masks, there are two eye holes to allow the wearer to see through the mask. However, only a few have mouth holes making it very difficult for the wearer to eat or drink without removing their mask. Often individuals wearing a full face masquerade mask would eat snacks in the shadowy corners so as not to reveal themselves.
The head mask design can be described as resembling a helmet. It is worn on the top of one’s head and is rather unique in contemporary social settings. This style is arguably one of the most elegant and simplest to decorate. However, like the full face mask, it is very difficult to eat or drink while wearing this type of masquerade mask.
The half face masquerade mask is the most common of all the masks. It is designed to hide the top half of an individual’s face. This mask covers the forehead, eyes, temples, and bridge of the nose. Unlike the other designs, this mask is not conducive to full identity concealment and would not have acted as an appropriate means of disguise. Although it did not cloak an identity, as is the purpose of a masquerade mask, it was more practical than the other designs allowing one to eat and drink easily.
The stick masquerade mask is not a mask design but refers to how the mask is held to one’s face. Contemporary masks are fastened using a length of elastic or string tied around the head. However, there are those which are held to the face using a colour coordinated stick. This is a popular feature of the paper mache Venetian masks.