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The moretta mask: Venetian mask of seduction

The moretta mask, reserved exclusively for women, was a Venetian mask that was round and covered with black velvet. Also known as the 'muta', it perfectly concealed the features of the wearer's face and was very common in Venice in the 18th century. 


Giovanni Grevembroch, who penned wonderful descriptions of Venetian costumes, wrote this in the 18th century:

“The heads of the family and the husbands led the wives and the sons to the Piazza [S. Marco], […] had her face covered by a black moretta, which created such contrast to the whiteness of the flesh that it shone, making it highly visible.”

(Gli abiti de veneziani di quasi ogni età con diligenza raccolti, e dipinti nel secolo XVIII: volume III pag. 90 Filippi editore, Venezia)

 



Covering one's face in order to appear more attractive ('visible') may seem like a contradiction, but it was not so according to the special logic of Venetian women. These women were rather uninhibited in showing their bodies, as evidenced by the mode of fashion called “décolleté alla veneziana”, famous throughout Europe. It featured a very generous, square neckline. The breast was veiled in a light fabric, which covered the chest precariously. It was also common to make up the nipples with carmine red so as to make them more 'visible' behind the transparent fabric.

If what was on display was meant to attract attention, what was hidden behind the moretta was regarded as the true treasure to be discovered: their inner world, their intentions and feelings.

But shouldn't misunderstand: with the moretta, women did not only express an innocent desire to be seen, but much more mischievously, to be powerfully seductive. They were openly playing the game of seduction as it was played across Venice.

 


The origin and meaning of the name 'moretta'

The term 'moretta' derives from the adjective 'moro', which means dark, and thus explains how the moretta mask could always be covered in black velvet.

But there is one surprising aspect that distinguishes the moretta mask from all other Venetian carnival masks. That aspect is connected with the other name for the mask: muta.




The moretta was held close to the face without the use of laces, but by biting between the teeth a button just at the level of the mouth. A lady who wanted to wear the moretta, therefore, remained completely silent.

The use of the moretta mask contributed to the fascination with the mysterious use of masks in Venetian life. It should not be confused with the desire of men to hide the features of women from the eyes of others.

Covering her face with a moretta, the mask of seduction, and staying silent at the same time, a lady's intentions were completely indecipherable. 



And so it was the woman herself who decided whether she remained anonymous and silent or whether she decided to respond to the attentions, if not the advances, of some suitor.

Removing the moretta mask, the lady offered not only the longed-for sight of her face, but also the sound of her voice, considered a faithful mirror of the soul. Only the truly fortunate had the privilege to admire that face and to hear her voice, but it would have taken a brave man to seduce a woman without knowing what he was getting - as well as bold, since he would have had to convince her to reveal her secret.



Thus the meaning of the moretta mask is revealed:
a small Venetian mask coated in black velvet, concealing only that part of the body
that is a window into the soul, the emotions.


La moretta: dalla pratica quotidiana all'oblio


Of course, in the back and forth of Venetian life, the moretta mask had to be capable of being removed and put back on at a moment's notice. One could not reveal one's secret to everyone. So the button was used to keep the mask on the face and not laces which were long, hard to tie, and hard to untangle. And of course, as mentioned, the button was an excuse to remain silent, as well as offering a way to ignore with dignity the offers a lady did not consider very interesting.

This playfulness with the moretta mask was not a momentary extravaganza, but a part of daily life for more than half the year. That is, in the period when the use of Venetian masks was permissible in daily life.

Despite its wonderful life in old Venice, the moretta mask - one of the most fascinating Venetian masks ever created - is not well known today. It is even hard to find among the well-stocked Venetian mask shops today. That is why we produce a faithful and solid reproduction of the original moretta seen in the paintings of Pietro Longhi and Johann Tischbein. We make it right here in our master workshop located in Venice, Italy.


Take a look at our online shop webpage. It is dedicated to traditional Venetian masks. There you can see the moretta - the great Venetian mask of seduction - presented in detail.

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