Let’s be prepared, because one of the biggest festival in the world is coming. Yes, it is time for Carnevale di Venezia or the Carnival of Venice! It is an annual festival held in Venice, Veneto, Italy that ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter, on Shrove Tuesday (Martedì Grasso or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. The festival is world-famous for its elaborate masks. In 2020, Carnevale di Venezia will takes place on 8 February until 25 February.
It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory of the Republic of Venice against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and gather in San Marco Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and became official in the Renaissance. However, under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor and later Emperor of Austria, Francis II, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden. After a long absence, the Carnival returned in 1979. The Government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts.
Masks have always been an important feature of the Venetian carnival. 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 using the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design, decoration, and often had a symbolic and practical function. Nowadays, most Italian masks are made with the application of gesso (a white paint mixture) and gold leaf and are hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.
Several distinct styles of mask are worn in the Venice Carnival, some with identifying names. The Colombina (also known as Columbine and as a Colombino) 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. The volto (Italian for face) or larva (meaning ghost in Latin) is the iconic modern Venetian mask: it is often made of stark white porcelain or thick plastic, though also frequently gilded and decorated, and is commonly worn with a tricorn and cloak. The volto is also quite heavier than a typical mask and has a much tighter fit. The Medico della peste or the Plague Doctor, with its long beak, is one of the most bizarre and recognizable 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.
Carnevale di Venezia consists of many events. One of the opening event is the Regata delle Columbine, where the women will be rowing on the Rio di Cannaregio in gondolini. It is followed by a historical water parade of decorated boats (corteo storico di imbarcazioni addobbate). Festa delle Marie or the Parade of Marie refers to the Purification of Mary, which was the day when all marriages were blessed. At the same time, the Venetian Doge offered magnificent jewels as a bridal dowry to 12 poor Venetian girls. However, in 973, pirates kidnapped the 12 Marie and their jewelry during the ceremony. The parade is a commemoration to thank the Virgin Mary for her help in rescuing these girls.
Volo dell’Angelo or the flight of the Angel is often considered as the official opening of Carnevale and is broadcast on television. The Angel, which is the winner of the Festa delle Marie from the previous year, performs the historical act of the Turk and flying from the Campanile to the stage where she is greeted by the Doge. And one of the most important events of Carnevale di Venezia is the contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”) which is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers.
There are theatres for children across the city, and they can also attend the activities at Ca’Giustinian, the headquarters of the Biennale. Children (often school groups) get creative and learn to make their own masks and costumes. Approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for the Carnival.
If you are in Venice on February, make sure to join Carnevale di Venezia! How about you? Have you ever been to Carnevale di Venezia? Tell us!