Carnival of Venice

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The Venetian carnival tradition is most famous for its distinctive masks.
It is common for people to attend the Carnival wearing elaborate costumes, plus masks.

The Carnival of Venice (Italian: Carnevale di Venezia) is an annual festival, held in Venice, Italy. The Carnival ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. The festival is famed for its elaborate masks.

History[edit]

It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory of the "Serenissima Repubblica" against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and became official in the Renaissance.[1] In the seventeenth century, the baroque carnival was a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world.[2] It was very famous during the eighteenth century.[3] It encouraged licence and pleasure, but it was also used to protect Venetians against the anguish for present time and future.[4] However, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden. It reappeared gradually in the nineteenth century, but only for short periods and above all for private feasts, where it became an occasion for artistic creations.[5]

After a long absence, the Carnival returned to operate in 1979.[6] The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts. The redevelopment of the masks began as the pursuit of some Venetian college students for the tourist trade. Today, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for Carnival. One of the most important events is the contest for la maschera più bella ("the most beautiful mask") placed at the last weekend of the Carnival and judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers.

Venetian carnival masks[edit]

A selection of Venetian carnival masks

Masks have always been a main feature of the Venetian carnival. Traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) and the start of the carnival season at midnight of Shrove Tuesday. As masks were also allowed on Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large portion of the year in disguise. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild.

Venetian masks can be made of leather, porcelain or with the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design, decoration, and often had a symbolic and practical function. Nowadays, most of them are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.

History[edit]

There is little evidence explaining the motive for the earliest mask wearing in Venice. One scholar argues that covering the face in public was a uniquely Venetian response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history.[7]

The first documented sources mentioning the use of masks in Venice can be found as far back as the 13th century.[8] The Great Council made it a crime to throw scented eggs.[9] The document decrees that masked persons were forbidden to gamble.[10]

Another law in 1339 forbade Venetians from wearing vulgar disguises and visiting nun's convents while masked. The law also prohibits painting one's face, or wearing false beards or wigs.[8]

Near the end of the Republic, the wearing of the masks in daily life was severely restricted. By the 18th century, it was limited only to about three months from December 26. The masks were traditionally worn with decorative beads matching in colour.

Types of masks[edit]

Several distinct styles of mask are worn in the Venice Carnival, some with identifying names.[11] People with different occupations wore different masks.

Bauta[edit]

Masks at the Carnival of Venice, with the "Bauta" mask shown on the left.

The bauta (sometimes referred as baùtta) is a mask, today often heavily gilded though originally simple stark white, which is designed to comfortably cover the entire face; this traditional grotesque piece of art was characterized by the inclusion of an over-prominent nose, a thick supraorbital ridge, a projecting "chin line", and no mouth. The mask's beak-like chin is designed to enable the wearer to talk, eat, and drink without having to remove it, thereby preserving the wearer's anonymity. The bauta was often accompanied by a red or black cape and a tricorn.

In 18th century, together with a black cape called a "tabarro", the bauta had become a standardized society mask and disguise regulated by the Venetian government.[12][13] It was obligatory to wear it at certain political decision-making events when all citizens were required to act anonymously as peers. Only citizens (i.e., men) had the right to use the bauta. Its role was similar to the anonymizing processes invented to guarantee general, direct, free, equal and secret ballots in modern democracies. Also, the bearing of weapons along with the mask was specifically prohibited by law and enforceable by the Venetian police.

Given this history and its grotesque design elements, the bauta was usually worn by men, but many paintings done in the 18th century also depict women wearing this mask and tricorn hat. The Ridotto and The Apple Seller by Pietro Longhi are two examples of this from the 1750s.

Columbina[edit]

The Columbina (also known as Columbine and as a Columbino) is a half-mask, only covering the wearer's eyes, nose, and upper cheeks. It is often highly decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers. It is held up to the face by a baton or is tied with ribbon as with most other Venetian masks. Columbina mask is named after a stock character in the Commedia dell'arte: Columbina was a maidservent and soubrette who was an adored part of the Italian theatre for generations. It is said it was designed for an actress because she did not wish to have her beautiful face covered completely. In fact, the Columbina is entirely a modern creation. There are no historic paintings depicting its use on the stage or in social life.

While both men and women now wear this mask, it began as a woman's analog to the bauta.

Medico della peste (The Plague Doctor)[edit]

A Medico della Peste mask.

The Medico della peste, is one of the most bizarre and recognisable of the Venetian masks, though it did not start out as carnival mask at all but as a method of preventing the spread of disease. The striking design originates from 17th-century French physician Charles de Lorme who adopted the mask together with other sanitary precautions while treating plague victims.[14] The mask is often white, consisting of a hollow beak and round eyeholes covered with crystal discs, creating a bespectacled effect. Its use as a carnival mask is entirely a modern convention, and today these masks are often much more decorative.

The plague doctors who followed De Lorme's example wore the usual black hat and long black cloak as well as the mask, white gloves and a stick (so as to be able to move patients without having to come into physical contact with them). They hoped these precautions would prevent them contracting the disease. Those who wear the plague doctor mask often also wear the associated clothing of the plague doctor. The popularity of the Medico della peste among carnival celebrants can be seen as a memento mori.

Moretta / Servetta muta[edit]

The moretta (meaning dark one lady) or servetta muta (meaning mute servant woman) was a small strapless black velvet oval mask with wide eyeholes and no lips or mouth worn by patrician women. It derived from the visard mask invented in France in the sixteenth century, but differed in not having a hole to speak through. The mask was only just large enough to conceal a woman's identity and was held in place by the wearer biting on a button or bit (the women wearing this mask were unable to speak, hence muta) and was sometimes finished off with a veil. The Rhinocerous by Pietro Longhi depicts this mask in use in 1751. It fell into disuse about 1760.

Volto (Larva)[edit]

The volto (Italian for face) or larva (meaning ghost in Latin) is the iconic modern Venetian mask: it is often stark white though also frequently gilded and decorated, and is commonly worn with a tricorn and cloak. It is secured in the back with a ribbon. Unlike the moretta muta, the volto covers the entire face including the whole of the chin and extending back to just before the ears and upwards to the top of the forehead; also unlike the moretta muta, it depicts simple facial features like the nose and lips. Unlike the bauta, the volto cannot be worn while eating and drinking because the coverage of the chin and cheeks is too complete (although the jaw on some original commedia masks was hinged, this is not a commedia mask and so is never hinged—the mouth is always completely closed).

Pantalone[edit]

Another classic character from the Italian stage, Pantalone, meaning he who wears the pants or father figure in Italian, is usually represented as a sad old man with an oversized nose like the beak of a crow with high brows and slanted eyes (meant to signify intelligence on the stage). Like other commedia masks, Pantalone is also a half mask.[15]

Arlecchino[edit]

Zanni[edit]

A leather version of a Zanni mask, profile view

The Zanni character is another classic of the stage. His mask is a half mask in leather, showing him with low forehead, bulging eyebrows and an long nose with a reverse curve towards the end. It is said that the longer his nose, the more stupid he is. The low forehead is also seen as a sign of stupidity.[15]

Mask-makers[edit]

The mascherari (or mask-makers) had their own statute dated 10 April 1436. They belonged to the fringe of painters and were helped in their task by sign-painters who drew faces onto plaster in a range of different shapes and paying extreme attention to detail.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Venetian masks feature prominently in the film Eyes Wide Shut. Stores that supplied the masks include both Ca' Macana[16] and Il Canovaccio[17] in Venice.
  • Carnevale is depicted in the 2009 video game Assassin's Creed II. The main character, Ezio Auditore, is assisted by the artist Leonardo da Vinci in hunting down and assassinating the corrupt Doge of Venice during Carnevale; a golden mask, which Ezio must obtain to enter a private party held by the Doge, plays a significant role in this part of the game.
  • Carnevale is also depicted in the 2005 video game Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. The first episode of the game is set during Carnivale in 2001, and large enemies wear masks.

Images[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Danilo Reato, Storia del carnevale di Venezia, Venezia, Assessorato alla Cultura della Provincia di Venezia, 1988.
  2. ^ Gilles Bertrand, Histoire du carnaval de Venise, XIe-XXIe siècle, Paris, Pygmalion, 2013, p. 37-94.
  3. ^ Stefania Bertelli, Il Carnevale di Venezia nel Settecento, Roma, Jouvence, 1992.
  4. ^ James H. Johnson, Venice incognito: masks in the Serene Republic, Berleley, University of California Press, 2011; Gilles Bertrand, Histoire du carnaval de Venise, XIe-XXIe siècle, Paris, Pygmalion, p. 95-235.
  5. ^ Gilles Bertrand, Histoire du carnaval de Venise, XIe-XXIe siècle, Paris, Pygmalion, 2013, p. 237-310.
  6. ^ Alessandro Bressanello, Il carnevale in età moderna: 30 anni di carnevale a Venezia 1980-2010, Venezia, Studio LT2, 2010; Fulvio Roiter, Carnaval de Venise, Lausanne, Payot, 1981.
  7. ^ Johnson, James H. (2011). Venice incognito: masks in the serene republic. p. 54. ISBN 9780520267718. 
  8. ^ a b Janet Sethre, The souls of Venice, 2003. Page 132.
  9. ^ Johnson>, James H. (2011). Venice incognito: masks in the serene republic. p. 54. ISBN 9780520267718. 
  10. ^ Ackroyd, Peter (2010-11-02). Venice: Pure City. ISBN 9780385531535. 
  11. ^ Danilo Reato, Les masques de Venise, Paris, Hersher, 1991 (first published in italian, 1988)
  12. ^ Ignatio Toscani: Die venezianische Gesellschaftsmaske. Ein Versuch zur Deutung ihrer Ausformung, ihrer Entstehungsgründe und ihrer Funktion. Diss. Saarbrücken 1970.
  13. ^ Johannes Wiele, "Licence to Mask: The Venetian Bauta Mask as a Historical Anonymization Device"
  14. ^ Christine M. Boeckl, Images of plague and pestilence: iconography and iconology (Truman State University Press, 2000), p. 27.
  15. ^ a b Wiles, David (2004). The Masks of Menander: Sign and Meaning in Greek and Roman Performance. Cambridge University. p. 126. ISBN 9780521543521. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  16. ^ See Pauline Frommer's Italy by Keith Bain, Reid Bramblett, Pippa de Bruyn, William Fink, Barbie Latza Nadeau p. 333
  17. ^ Frommer's Northern Italy: Including Venice, Milan & the Lakes by John Moretti p. 168

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