Imagine a city whose women were not shy at all, nor afraid to show their bodies: such was Venice in the 16th and 17th century. That could seem hard to believe, given that almost all the rest of the world had to cope with Puritanism and the strictness which followed the Counter-Reformation. Venice, though, has always played an exceptional role in such matters, and the freedom Venetian women enjoyed is well represented by a mask which was not aimed at hiding the wearer’s face, but rather at drawing someone’s attention: the Moretta, or Muta.
A means of enticement: the meaning of the Moretta mask
Muta means “mute”: women wearing this mask were, indeed, unspeaking, since it could only be held to the face by gripping one’s teeth on the button placed inside it. Only when she wanted to finally give an answer and some peace to the man who was addressing her, she put the mask down and revealed herself and her feelings.
The Moretta is therefore a way for women – who were, indeed, the only ones wearing this mask – to create an aura of mystery and to become intriguing, in a city where they could not simply rely on their bodies to be attractive in the eyes of men. Meaningful features of this mask are its colour and its size, as well: as the name itself reveals, the Moretta was black, though it did not completely hide a woman’s face, being a small oval covering her face only up to the eyes and down to the mouth.
Together with this mask, women often wore a long taffeta cloth, the xendal, which was originally used by ladies to cover their head and shoulders. Interestingly, this garment, which was later developed into a closed cloth wholly made of lace, was also used as the lace trim for the Bauta cape.
The ideals the Moretta is based on are not so outdated as it appears at a first sight, they are in effect quite modern in their attempt at making women more captivating by turning them into inscrutable creatures, rather than showing off their bodies. Moreover, the Moretta granted them a great degree of independence in deciding who they wanted to talk to and to start a relationship with.