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  • AutorenbildBastian Peter

The History of the Basler Künstlerlarve (Basel artist mask)

Aktualisiert: 13. Juli 2023

We cordially invite you to uncover the exuberance and vitality of Basel Carnival on our collaborative platform, "Visit the Carnival of Basel". This user-friendly site, presented entirely in English, serves as your ultimate guide, complete with detailed resources, interactive maps, and seamless booking options to assist your journey through this remarkable event. Immerse yourself here in the heart of the festivities and tap into a wealth of knowledge that captures the essence and global recognition of Basel Carnival's rich cultural heritage and grandeur.

The term "Basler Künstlerlarve" and its meaning

The term "Basler Künstlerlarve" can be translated as "Basel artist mask". It refers to a type of traditional carnival mask that is specific to the city of Basel in Switzerland. These masks are made using a special technique called "Kaschiertechnik", which involves covering a base material, usually a molded wax model, with layers of paper mache to create a durable and lightweight mask.

The "Künstlerlarve" masks are highly detailed and often depict specific characters or personalities that are commonly seen during the Basel carnival, such as the "Waggis", a comical representation of a farmer. The masks are handmade by local artists and craftsmen and are an important part of the cultural heritage of Basel.

Overall, the "Basler Künstlerlarve" is an intricate and fascinating example of traditional Swiss craftsmanship and artistry.

Ein Foto des Gemäldes "Morgenstreich", 1843 von Hieronimus Hess,  Auftakt der Basler Fasnacht.
Hieronymus Hess, 1843, Morgenstreich in Basel, Basler Fasnacht

Origins of the Basler Künstlerlarve

The origins of the Basler Künstlerlarve can be traced back to the earliest days of the Fasnacht. While masks and costumes have been a part of the Fasnacht since its inception, the Künstlerlarve as we know it today has its roots in the 19th century. Prior to this time, masks and costumes were often made of wood or metal, and each character had a specific meaning or representation. In the 1800s, as the Fasnacht grew in popularity, the masks and costumes became more elaborate, and new characters were added to the mix. This was the era of the classic Fasnacht figures, such as the Waggis, the Alti Dante, and the Altfranken. However, it was also a time of change, as new materials and techniques were developed for creating masks and costumes.

Photo of two historical shapes of two prominent figures of the Carnival of Basel: the "Ueli" and "Dummpeter". Photo taken in Atelier Charivari, Basel, Switzerland.
Historical shapes - over 100 years old - "Ueli" and "Dummpeter" - Classic figures of carnival of Basel. These are antic shapes with a long history that we still own and use today.

The Birth of the Basler Künstlerlarve

The true birth of the Basler Künstlerlarve can be traced back to the early 20th century. In 1921, the Fasnachtsgesellschaft Olympia parodied the Kunstkredit (a government-funded arts organization), and the resulting mask was designed by a theater designer named Paul Rudin. Unable to find a suitable mask from any of the usual suppliers, the Olymper decided to make the mask themselves. Rudin created the mask using paper and canvas, and after many attempts, the first kaschierte (paper-mache) masks were born. The following year, the mask manufacturer Emil Metraux and Co. began producing kaschierte masks of their own, and the Basler Künstlerschaft (Basel artists' association) soon took notice. In 1925, the Basler Kunstkredit (Basel arts council) held a competition for mask designs, with Emil Metraux and Bucherer providing the manufacturing. The winning designs were made into wax masks, and the resulting publicity sparked a surge of interest in the art of mask-making. This was the start of the Basler Künstlerlarve as we know it today.

Photo of four antic and historical artist masks from Basel, Switzerland
Historical basel maks / Historische Basler Künstlerlarven

The Rise of the Basler Künstlerlarve

With the success of the wax masks, the kaschierte mask began to take over as the dominant form of mask at the Basler Fasnacht. By the time World War II began, the kaschierte mask had become the norm, with the more fragile wax masks relegated to the ballrooms. The kaschierte mask had many advantages over the wax mask. They were more durable, more lightweight, and more versatile. They could be made in any size or shape, and the design possibilities were nearly endless. As a result, the art of mask-making continued to thrive in Basel, with new designs and variations constantly being introduced.

Ein Foto uralter Basler Künstlerlarven aus Wachs
Historical Basel artist larvae from wax

The Different Types of Basler Künstlerlarve

Today, the Künstlerlarve is an essential part of the Basler Fasnacht, and each year, new designs are created and added to the collection. The Künstlerlarve has become a symbol of the city's unique and vibrant culture, and it is cherished by locals and visitors alike.

Ein Foto für den damaligen Flyer für eine Ausstellung bei GALERIE • BRIGITTA LEUPIN die sich um die Kunst der Basler Fasnacht drehte. Dies waren einige der Künstlerlarven vom Larven Atelier Charivari, die dort ausgestellt wurden.
Various maks from the Larven Atelier Charivari. Those were exhibited at GALERIE • BRIGITTA LEUPIN.


The Basler Künstlerlarve is a unique and fascinating aspect of the city's culture and history. From its origins in the 19th century to its continued evolution in the 21st, the Künstlerlarve has remained an essential element of the Basler Fasnacht. Its intricate designs and elaborate costumes are a testament to the creativity and artistry of the people of Basel.

Whether you're a local or a visitor, the Basler Fasnacht and the Künstlerlarve are not to be missed. From the early morning Morgenstreich to the colorful and lively Cortège, the Basler Fasnacht is an experience like no other. And the Künstlerlarve is a central part of this experience, representing the history, creativity, and artistry of the people of Basel. So if you have the opportunity to visit Basel during Fasnacht, be sure to take in all the sights and sounds of this unique and unforgettable festival.

Related links & sources

"Die Geschichte der Basler Künstlerlarve"

"Die Basler Künstlerlarve: Als die Basler Larve die Thüringer Maske verdrängte", 27.02.2023

Andreas W. Schmid / Roman Peter, Bastian Peter

"Als die Basler Larve die Thüringer Maske verdrängte", BZ Basel vom 23.02.2023

"Die Tradition der Basler Künstlerlarven weiterführen", Die Riehener Zeitung, 19. Februar 2010

"Rendez Vous mit... Larven Atelier Charivari"

Im. Riehener Zeitung, Ausgabe 7, 19. Februar 2010

Autor/Foto: Lukas Müller

"Wie der Narr im Laufe der Zeit zum Ueli wird", Basler Zeitung, Dezember 2004

Christian Platz, Basler Zeitung, stadt.tagesthema., Montag, 13. Dezember 2004

"Vom Narr zum Ueli: Tradition und Wandel von Basler Fasnachtsfiguren"

Beat Trachsler, GS- Verlag Basel, 2004, ISBN: 3718501945

Beat Trachsler, GS-Verlag Basel

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