Carnival of Venice: between masks and tradition

Carnival of Venice: between masks and tradition

Origin and history of the Carnival of Venice – The Carnival of Venice is an annual festival, held in Venice, Italy.  Its origins date back to the Middle Ages, when the Venetian oligarchy decided to grant to the population a time of fun and entertainment, with music and wild dancing. The term “Carnival of Venice” is mentioned for the first time in 1094 in a document of the Venetian Doge Vitale Falier. In 1296, through a decree by  the Senate of the Venetian Republic, the day before Lent  was declared non-working day,  and finally called Carnival (“carnem upbeat“, Latin expression that means abstaining from eating meat), according to a religious meaning. The celebrations lasted six weeks, from December 26th to Ash Wednesday. In 1420 the Venetian Carnival became the famous party that is still today. The Doge indeed did organize a great ceremony to celebrate the Venetian victory over the city of Aquileia, with the sacrifice of oxen and pigs, symbol of the enemy defeat. In 1797, previously with the French occupation and then with the Austrian one, the tradition of Carnival was stopped to prevent riots and rebellions by the population. Only in 1979 the traditional festivities  restarted thanks to the fundamental contribution of the Municipality of Venice, the Teatro la Fenice, Venice Biennale, the tourism organizations, but especially thanks to the support of a large number of Venetian citizens who wanted to carry on this artistic and cultural event.

The "volo dell’ Angelo"

The “volo dell’ Angelo”

The “volo dell’ Angelo” ( “flight of the Angel”) or “volo della Colombina” (“flight of the Dove”) – The “Flight of the Angel” (or the “Flight of Columbine”) is the traditional event most admired and followed by the public during the Carnival festivity in Venice. It takes place at noon on the first Sunday of Carnival (February 8th, this year) and evokes the ancient custom of bringing homage to the Doge.  For the first time, in the mid-sixteenth century, the show was performed by a turkish acrobat who walked a tightrope hanging  from the bell tower of San Marco to a boat anchored near the Piazzetta. In the following years many non-professional tightrope walkers tried to overcome this circus test as long as in 1979, after a fatal accident, the Venetian authority decided to use a wooden Dove for the show. Halfway through the flight, the Dove released confetti and candies in crowds. Since 2001, the Angel or the Dove even became a famous person – whose identity is kept secret until the last – who performs in a spectacular aerial performance from the top of the Campanile to Palazzo Ducale.

Maschereri artisan

“Maschereri” artisan

Venezian masks  – In Venetian culture with the term “mask” is meant the activity to get a beard and mustache and “mask” was also the nickname given to women who disguised themselves as men and men dressed up as women. During the Carnival festivities,  masks became a symbol of freedom and transgression against all social rules imposed by the Serene Republic of Venice. Thanks to this ornament, mix of tradition and folklore, there were no more identity, social groups or factions, but people were equal and united and the typical greeting was “Buongiorno Siora Maschera” (“Good morning dear Mask”). The use of masks brings us back to the historic Venetian theaters and Goldoni’s Commedia dell’arte, with the characters of Harlequin, Colombina, Pantalone, Zanni.  But the traditional costumes during the Carnival period were: the Larva, a simple white mask that 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, the Bauta, a white mask with an over-prominent nose that covers the entire face often accompanied by a red or black cape and a tricorn, the Moretta, a female small strapless black velvet oval mask with wide eyeholes and no lips or mouth, the Gnaga, a mask with the aspect of a cat used by men to personify female figures. The trade linked to the Carnival of Venice became fundamental and the production of masks was so intensified that in 1773 there were 12 mask shops in the city. The artisans maschereri(“mask makers”)got their own statute in 1436, under the fringe of the painters. Their masks were, and are, made of clay, plaster for the cast, papier-mache, flour glue, gauze, all glued and modeled on a special mold. Then, various colors and wax are applied and finally some decorations, like gems, fabrics, ribbons and feathers.

Carnival of Venice

Carnival of Venice [Photo Credits Stefano Montagner]

Carnival of Venice 2018 – This edition of the Carnival of Venice amaze their audiences with the theme “Creatum civitas ludens where the fun become protagonist in Venetian History. It starts on the weekend of January 27th  with the Party in the Venetian Cannaregio district, during which a large company will open the festival with a show on the water and along the foundation. Saturday, February 3rd at 16.00 will be proclaimed the “Mary of the Carnival”. This “true queen of grace and beauty” will be the awarded between other 12 “Marie”, the most beautiful girls of Venice. The main event will be “The Flight of the Angel”, Sunday, February 4th  at 12.00. The festivities will end on the Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) on February 13th  at 17.00 with the last performance: the “Svolo of Leon”. A huge banner symbolizing the winged lion, symbol of the Venetian Republic, will lower on Piazza San Marco while the hymn of San Marco will be tuned up by the Venetian choir and the Twelve Marie, to celebrate the end of the Venetian Carnival.



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