Thanks to modern technology and mass production, it’s become really easy to buy things that used to be rare and expensive in bulk and for cheap. Sometimes really cheap. Unfortunately, a lot of artisan products are now being mass-produced. Why is that unfortunate? Well, let’s talk about this in the context of Venetian masquerade masks.
Venetian masks are a symbol of Venetian culture.
They represent the rich history of Venice and its people and traditions. Mask making is an art that mascherieri, or mask-makers, take years of work to perfect. It is a craft that has been handed down from generation to generation for centuries. Masks made in Venice are made in workshops in tiny little alleys and basements and rooms full of Venetian history. They are made by people who live the culture and are linked to its traditions.
Authentic Venetian masks are all made by hand, usually using papier-mâché.
This is a technique where strips of paper are soaked in a paste or glue and layered in a hand-made mold to create a mask. Once all of the papier-mâché layers are complete, the mask is set to dry and then decorated. Authentic Venetian masks boast some incredible adornments: some have feathers, rhinestones, macramé, and even gold or silver leaf. They might feature leather, lace, and velvet trim. Some even have little paintings on them. Because each item is made by hand, it is unique. No other piece is identical.
Now, let’s look at imitation masks. These are masks that are made in large factories or production lines somewhere other than Venice.
Firstly, these masks are made by machine, so they’re pretty cookie-cutter. You and possibly half a million other people could be wearing the same mask. What’s so special about that? If you’re the kind of person who worries about walking into a party wearing the same dress as someone else, then you definitely don’t want to buy an imitation mask. Not to mention, imitation masks don’t feel very nice. Instead of being made of quite pliable and breathable papier-mâché, they’re primarily made of plastic (tacky) and sometimes porcelain (uncomfortable). The finishings are usually low-quality (that’s why they cost so little), you can often see the glue used to stick on rhinestones (unlikely to be Swarovski), have sparkles and glitter easily fall off, and you’ll likely have fraying trim or ribbon before you even wear the mask. Now, even if you think the quality is ok, what the mask looks like usually isn’t. Imitation masks are usually made by people who don’t know much about Venetian culture or the Venetian aesthetic, so you could end up with a mask that looks nothing even remotely close to what would have been worn at Venetian carnivals.
If you’re hesitant about spending a lot of money on something like a mask, here’s a few things that’ll hopefully change your mind:
- A mask doesn’t have to be crazy-expensive. We’ve got some great ones for under $50. Classic styles will never go out of fashion, and you can wear them over and over again.
- Masks can double as artwork. Hang it on a wall, frame it, or place it on your mantle as an objet d’art when you’re done. It’ll be a great conversation starter!
- A beautifully handcrafted mask can become an heirloom. It’s something you can pass on to someone special, or something you can hold on to as a memory of a special event.
And lastly, here’s a few images of authentic versus imitation Venetian masks: