Carnevale: a history of masks
A rigid caste system coupled with ample opportunities for indulging in a host of vices made anonymity very desirable in an overcrowded city where detection was otherwise unavoidable. In the 13th century a law was passed banning masks while gambling. Later norms made it illegal to make masked visits to convents, or to wear masks during many religious festivals.
In the end, it was easier to stipulate when masks could be worn: from Boxing Day until Shrove Tuesday – the period now known as Carnevale – interestingly from the latin – carnem and vale, or “meat” and “farewell” – the time the Church banned eating meat during Lent. The French stamped out the festivities when they took command of the city in 1797. And so it remained until 1979 when it dawned on local authorities (and mask makers) that a revamped Carnevale would boost tourism in the city. The festival now lasts for two weeks in the run-up to Lent.
Carnevale (or carnival) in the 18th century began with a series of balls in St Mark’s Square, as can be seen on the fresco on the walls of the famous café Quadri’s. Fortunes were squandered every night of Carnival in the Ridotto Gambling casino, whatever the social status all the people wore costumes and masks, many connected to the Commedie del’Arte, Harlequin, Columbine, the Plague Doctor and of course the courtesans.
Where to go to see the Carnival
St Mark’s Square is still the fulcrum of Carnival activities, and that’s where you’ll find the most extraordinary costumes – many hoping for a chance in the best costume competition, some aiming to be photographed, and others just enjoying themselves.
Buy a Carnival mask
If you would like to buy a mask like those worn in the Carnival click on this link:
This is a handmade Pantalone mask. Commedia dell’arte is the theatrical tradition that developed in Italy. This mask is made using traditional Venetian mask making techniques and are moulded, papered using authentic Italian Carta Lana wool paper and finally painted by hand with a wax finish, making each mask an unique an original piece of art.
Here are some others using the same techniques, but in different styles: