Bauta: the most widely used Venetian mask

Bauta: the most widely used Venetian mask

One could argue that, especially during the 18th century, not wearing a mask would have looked weird, in Venice. Among the various masks made by the maschereri, though, one was worn in every season, by men, women, the rich and the poor, and it can indeed be considered as the most effective disguise: its name is Bauta or Bautta.

Bauta mask facts: the building blocks of this disguise

A Bauta is no mere mask, but rather a whole costume, aimed not only at hiding one’s face, but his, or her, social status, as well. “Wear me”, it said, “and you can be whoever you want to be”. This Venetian love for this disguise dates back as far as the 13th century, when the first document quoting its name was written. Although the etymology is not certain, the name “Bauta” may come from the same root as the German behüten, “to protect”, that is exactky what this costume does: protecting one’s identity, by means of a black hooded cape, trimmed with lace for nobles, and a black or white mask, the Volto, whose shape was unique.

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo - Minuetto

The beak-like projection of its lower part allowed people wearing the Volto not only to eat and drink without taking it off, but to modify their own voice, too. This mask was made of plaster, papier-mâché or leather. Cape and mask were held together by a usually black tricorn hat, which women too put on.

Not only Casanova’s mask: a mask worn by everyone

The Bauta is well known even today, thanks to movies such as Casanova, directed by Lasse Hallström (2005), where it is worn only by the main characters, belonging to the upper class. One of the most peculiar features of the Bauta, though, is its widespread and varied use: it could indeed be put on by everyone, i.e. both by nobles and by common people. Thus members of the lower classes were also offered a chance for mixing up with the upper class, especially at their parties. This is proven by the fact that every Bautta had to be greeted, since it was impossible to know who was wearing it.

The Bauta is therefore an extremely adequate disguise: maybe this is the reason why it was shown more tolerance than other masks. Venetians were, indeed, allowed to wear it even on Saint Mark’s day (April, 25th), on the Ascension Day and during the elections of doges and procurators of the Serenissima Republic.