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The bauta
The "noble" or "national" mask of the Serene Republic, this is Venetian costume par excellence. The description given us by Boerio is cursory. He tells us only that it is a veil or cape used as a mask. Mutinelli, on the other hand, is more exact and also mentions the larva and the volto or face-masks which form an integral part of this costume and as such have taken on its name.

The bauta was an ample, all-enveloping black silk cloak and a cape or veil of black silk lace, hung from a black tricorn hat and falling down over the shoulders to cover half of the person.

This veil was the actual bauta itself. the long cloak was called the Mantle. There was also sometimes a face-shaped mask, either in black or in shining white. Nobody can actually say what its origins were as a costume but the use of the three-cornered hat would make us think that they can not be all that remote.

Opinions vary on the origin of the name bauta. Tramater thinks it might come from the German behüten meaning "protect, preserve or defend". The Accademia della Crusca sees an affinity with bacucco or baucco whose original meaning came from the name of the prophet Habakuk, but which had come to be a synonym for senility, huddled into layers of clothing for protection against the cold.

If Tommaseo is to be believed, then it comes simply from bau or non-voice - a mask to frighten the children with. In fact Durante and Turato, in their Veneto-Italian Etymological Dictionary refer the name to bau or better bau-bao, "a simple expression for scaring children with". Battaglia actually sees it as Venetian and perhaps coming from bava or bavaglio, a mouth covering, or gag, which impedes speech.

Battisti and Alesio agree with this but they also point out how close the name is to the Piedmontese bavera meaning face-covering.
One could go on splitting linguistic hairs in this manner forever. It might be better to turn to another aspect of this form of dress. Was the bauta a costume or not? Lorenzetti tends to think not and calls it an abito d'uso (a form of dress in use).

Everyone, however, seems to be in agreement on one thing, and that is that mask-costumes are great levellers of every difference and that the bauta was perfect in this respect.

Men, women, traitors, spies, informers,, the highest in the land and the lowest of the low, the most depraved, the Doge, the State Inquisitors, foreign royalty, all, at least once in a while, could put themselves on the same level, equals, safe from all insults and offences thanks to the protection of the bauta, even in the eyes of the law.

This was certainly a costume that gave feminine grace to the women that wore it. It covered all the jewels and rich garments that were prohibited by the stringent Venetian laws against luxury although it did permit a glimpse, through the Burano lace, of arms of seduction capable of converting the most august and intransigent into a libertine.

It was this kind of bauta in fact that the Venetian magistracy for ceremonies decreed as being too luxurious and costly - even Casanova was in agreement. But if one kind of bauta was banned, another, more sober, was declared obligatory for ladies at the theatre. But - and there is a "but" - this was because the marriageable girls were actually forbidden to wear the bauta. This was the letter of the law, however, and went largely unheeded. Suffice it to say that Elisabetta Mocenigo, when she was betrothed to Pietro Duodo, did have a bauta in her trousseau.

It was at celebrations, at the theatre, in the cafe's and at lovers' meetings that the bauta came into its own, and its use was permitted ouside Carnival. A dress for all seasons, in fact, and the elegant protagonist of every Venetian adventure.

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