The modern Venetian Carnival runs up until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (known as "Mardi Gras"),
starting two Fridays before the Tuesday. Venice carnival dates therefore vary in step with Easter as follows:
Carnival 2008 - January 25-February 5
Carnival 2009 - February 13-24
Carnival 2010 - February 5-16
Venice Carnival in history
The word carnival comes from the Latin for "Farewell, meat!". As Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday)
obliged people to fast, during the period up to Ash Wednesday all meat, butter and eggs had to be used up. This
religious formality became the excuse for a party that echoed pagan festivities. In late Rome Saturnalia and
Lupercalia were moments when recklessness was celebrated - a deliberate upturning of the usual social order.
Christianity licensed a comparable period of celebration from Twelfth Night until the midnight of Shrove
Tuesday. Popes Clement IX and XI and Benedict XIII were among those who tried hardest to bring Carnival
back within proper religious limits, but they didn't have much influence over Venice.
The Carnival in Venice is said to have originated from an important victory of the "Repubblica della
Serenissima" (how it was called the town of VENEZIA in those times), in the war against Ulrico, Patriarch of
Aquileia, in the year 1162 . Thus began a tradition of slaughtering a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco
around Shrove Tuesday to commemorate the victory.
To celebrate this victory, dances and reunions started to take place in SAN MARCO SQUARE.
Of course, how it was usual in those times, and due to the multicultural character of Venice, magicians and
others joined the fun. This celebration gradually grew and 1268 dates the first document mentioning the use of
We should not forget that at the time Venice was a rather powerful small republic, center of much traveling
inside Italy and on the road to China.
At the beginning this celebration that started the day after Christmas went on for several centuries until the 17th
century came, rejoicing in music, culture, rich garments and a growing middle class. And this is more the
Carnival we know, to which we relate more. The music of Vivaldi, the masks, the beautiful and mysterious
History of Venice Carnival – the 18th Century
The eighteenth century was the heyday of Carnival. Venice's decline in power was accompanied by a striking
consumption of pleasure. Rich young nobles doing the European "Grand Tour" made sure these pleasures were
theirs as well. The paintings of Francesco Guardi and the diaries of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) are the
best-known symbols of the age - the languid spirit of carnival an ever-present implication.
History of Venice Carnival – Retirement and revival
Carnival's importance declined gradually through to the 1930s, when Mussolini banned it. In 1979, a group of
Venetians and lovers of Venice decided to revive the tradition. Within a few years, the image of the masked
reveller had become a worldwide icon of Venice in winter .Women, craziness and treason, all together
Tradition is Venice
From the beginning of the Serenissima Republic when Venice was the center of the known world, lots of water
has passed under the bridges (literally!). Venice is beautiful. A small town that thanks to the hard work and
creativity of its inhabitants surged to the highest ranks in power and splendor. And thanks to the peculiarity of
being "protected by the water" and hard to reach, it has been almost militarily unbeatable for centuries.
Find flashes of Carnival traditions, that have survived from the 12th up to the 19th century and bear the imprint
of a glorious past.
Venice Carnival masks
Masks made the Venetian Carnival unique. If you cannot identify the wearer of the mask, you do not know his
social status. In this way, Venice temporarily overturned her social order. Some of the masks depicted
Commedia dell'Arte (Italian theater) characters. Others were more sinister. The white-beaked mask so famous
from photographs is that of the plague-doctor; the beak echoes a doctor's long breathing apparatus that held a
sponge doused in vinegar, thought to hold the plague at bay. The Doges (rulers of Venice) were frequently
exercised by the dangers masks allowed, and passed laws limiting their use to within the carnival period; if you
wore a mask at any other time of year, penalties were severe.
Masks are a big industry in today's Venice, and sold all year round. Here are some of the masks that are still
seen in Venice during Carnival
SPETTACOLO DI BURATTINI(Puppet Show)Puppets shows and story-telling have always been very
popular in all Italy along the centuries, and in Venice in particular during the Carnival. But, as we see in this
picture, this peculiar show is made mostly for attracting the crowds, put them together and at ease, and then
starting to propose the sale of a "special balsam", or a "long life elixir", to suckers that might believe in these
CIARLATANI E SALTIMBANCHI IN PIAZZA SAN MARCO Charlatans and tumblers Charlatans,
magicians, acrobats always have been the heart of the Carnival of Venice. In the San Marco square different
stages for various types of shows, magic tricks, music, blossomed during Carnival time.And tourists coming
from all over the (known!) world, gladly participated to the celebrations.In the 17th century as of today, things
don't change that much, after all
OVI ODORIFERI (Scented Eggs)
Carnival has always been also a way of flirting. One way of courting (making passes at) women was the
unusual throwing of eggs filled up with rose water. And it became a trend. Merchants were selling different
kinds of perfumed eggs, and young masked men were going around town, showing their appreciation for the
ladies they liked most, throwing these perfumed eggs in front of their houses. Of course the joke could get
wild, so eggs also went toward the spectators, the ladies' husbands, and finally to the ladies themselves … These
"eggs throwing masks" were also known as Mattaccino or Frombolatore (from the frombola, the sling)
REGATA DI CARRIOLE( Wheel Barrow Parade)
Probably one of those wild Carnival entertainments as opposed to the gondolas parades and the big Canal
Grande boat procession, with the Doge leading it all. No masks, simple clothes, servant's hat. A wild guess is
that the Wheel Barrow Parade was probably an ironic, lower classes joking competition, just for having fun, and
attracting all the public's attention
CARNIVAL MASKS IN VENICE
Some of the masks walking around in Venice streets are the typical, more famous masks that lived through
centuries in the fantasy and tradition of the Carnival of Venice. Other masks did not become so famous, or
weren't used for impersonations by the Commedia dell'Arte, but still are fascinating and alive in the art and
Browsing through them is like walking in the narrow streets of a foggy Venice of the 16th century. Everybody
disguised, people laughing, chatting, a glass of wine here, a dance there. Carnival in Venice, this is what it was.
And in modern times also the same disguised people will welcome you as you pass by the Rialto Bridge, or by
Campo Santa Margherita. Only that nowadays all surely carry a camera and can take the memories home with
VOLTO - LARVA
The "Volto" was the more common mask used in Venice for centuries. Volto means "face" to design that is was
the most common, simplest mask. Also called "Larva", with the possible meaning of "ghost", as it gives an
eerie appearance to the people wearing it, just imagine ... at night, under a full moon ... in those narrow streets ...
Who couldn't afford all the velvet and gold necessary for having a real good masked outfit, could resort to
simple means to participate to the carnival too. Not with the same elegance, maybe, but enough for not being
completely left out
MEDICO DELLA PESTE(Plague Doctor Mask)
The "Plague Doctor" may be considered a mask nowadays, but in the old times it was a sad reality. The mask
with the long beak is made to keep in it substances and aromas that it was believed would have protected the
doctor from getting contaminated from the plague.
The Mattasin (Mattaccino in Italian - also known as "frombolatore", because of the sling he used to carry
around) is one of the wildest impersonations of the Carnival The name comes from the Italian word "mattinate"
(mornings), going long hours, until morning, having fun.
With a white or multicolored dress, but simple and practical (as opposed to the traditional classy heavy
costumes) and a feathered hat, here comes the Mattasin. Fun loving, irreverent, with the sling ready for
throwing eggs in distance, going around in groups, disapproved by the majority, wild and contemptuous.
The Bauta is to be considered the traditional venetian mask, the one mostly used to cover your features, made in
a way that it is still possible to eat and drink without having to take it off.
The Bauta is always white, and it is not only a Carnival mask, in the sense in those times it could also be used
all year long, to protect one's identity. It consisted not only of the mask covering the face, but the finely woven
lace, and the black hat with three tips (tricorno).
The name bauta does not have up to now, a definite interpretation: it may came from the German "behüten"(to
protect), as well as from "bau" (or "babau"), typical Italian representation of the monster, or bad beast, used by
adults to scare children. "Se non stai bravo viene il babau e ti porta via … (if you do not behave, the babau will
come and take you away …)"
In a way, the Bauta was some kind of a leveler. All ages, all social statuses could get together, all of them
wearing a mask and concealing their true identity. It was mandatory all year long for women who went to the
theater and forbidden to girls waiting to be married.
Light and confortable, because of the narrow nose, the maskssort of modifies the voice pitch, and of course
romantic encounters were a lot simplified, this way
Mysterious and intriguing: this are the reasons of so much success of this mask, the so called Moretta (meaning
"Dark", because of its color). Used by women only, the mask was kept in place by a button, held by the front
teeth. Rather uncomfortable for sure, but that's the way fashion has always been. The silence into which these
women were forced especially pleased the male counterpart … may the Venetian women were considered to be
Pulcinella is another example of witty but somewhat different character and mask that emerges powerfully from
the Italian theater. Philosophical, eternally happy, a dreamer, Pulcinella has a spirit all of his own. No tensions
or despair, his approach to life makes him coast problems, situations, live adventures and at the end simply
getting out of everything, in the same simple manner as how he got involved.
A positive approach to life, his winning strategy. Various masks or costumes were part of the character, as its
evolution went on, but what got in the imaginary was the white, simple, poor costume with the sugar loaf hat
(the "coppolone"), his dreamy way of being, his poetry and simple philosophy.
The title says everything.
The portrayed woman here is impersonating the spirit of carnival, the devilish madness of these celebrations.