Venice, Italy Rio de Janiero, Brazil New Orleans, USA
It's all about masks & costumes It's all about bare skin & dancing It's all about drinking & music
Like many seasonal celebrations and religious holidays, Carnival likely has its roots in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons. Some believe the festival represented the few days added to the lunar calendar to make it coincide with the solar calendar; since these days were outside the calendar, rules and customs were not obeyed. Others see it as a late-winter celebration designed to welcome the coming spring. As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a fast of forty Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.
In fact, both the Greek and Roman civilizations had periods of during which the average citizens were allowed to take liberties denied them for most of the year.
Wearing masks, poor people were allowed to make fun of the rich without being punished. The Romans had a saying ‘semel in anno licet insanire’ (‘once every year it is legitimate to go crazy’), while according to an Italian proverb ‘a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale’ (‘at Carnival anything goes!’).
In the locations where the Christian religion became predominant, the Roman festival was transformed into the last period of merrymaking prior to Lent, which is the period of repentance before Easter. Carnival is celebrated in all Catholic countries, in some form or other, and it has retained the original custom of wearing masks, with the addition, over time, of numerous other rituals.
Photo source: https://www.planeteu.com/events/carnival-venice/
By the eighteenth century the wearing of masks by Venetians continued for six months of the year as the original religious association and significance with carnival diminished. On October 17th, 1797 (26 Vendémiaire, Year VI of the French Republic) Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. Under the Emperor of Austria, Francis II, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden.
Venice (and many Italian cities) in the Middle Ages and Renaissance had a long tradition of mask-wearing among the nobility while engaging in activities of a questionable nature -- gambling, drinking, not to mention romantic and sexual rendezvous. Their activities were so outrageous that laws were passed to restrict the wearing of masks to certain times of year. One of those times was Carnival.
Masks were also worn by the lower classes to allow them to mix unfettered with the aristocrats in such situations. The mask, after all, was a great equalizer in a social setting. This was especially common in Carnival, with its traditions of role reversal and celebration of the fool. Some of those typical costumes include the following:
▼Photo source: blog.privateislandparty.com/carnival-masks/
This is a traditional mask, worn only by women (only by patrician women in the 18th century), a black oval mask that is held in place not with a band or string, but by a button on the inside of the mask that is held clenched between the teeth of the wearer. The Moretta mask experienced a brief surge of popularity before disappearing almost entirely by 1760.
▼Photo source: https://www.planeteu.com/events/carnival-venice/
Columbina mask was an option for those less concerned with preserving anonymity. A half-face mask often held to one’s face by means of an attached stick, the Columbina allowed the wearer to reveal their identity at will. This mask supposedly originated when a vain and beautiful Venetian actress, playing the part of the columbina (a servant girl) in Commedia dell’arte, insisted on being given a mask that didn’t entirely obscure her lovely face. True or not, there are no historic paintings depicting its use.
▼ Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images
This is a costume based on the clothing plague doctors wore in the 17th century to protect them from diseases. The “costume” consisted of an ankle length overcoat and a mask with a beak like a bird, often filled with sweet or strong smelling substances (such as lavender), gloves, boots, a wide-brimmed hat and an outer garment.
The mask had glass openings in the eyes and a curved beak shaped like that of a bird with straps that held the beak in front of the doctor's nose. The mask had two small nose holes and was a type of respirator containg aromatic items. The beak held dried flowers and herbs or a vinegar sponge. All this was intended to keep away bad odors called miasma, which were believed to be the principal causes of diseases.
▼Photo by Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA
Couple in love at the 2010 Carnevale in Venice (IMG_9534a)
Photo source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival_of_Venice
The volto mask is considered the most typical Venetian mask. Often stark white or gilded, it covers the entire face. Owing to the fact it's light weight and rather creepy, the volto is also known as the ghost mask.
▼Photo source: https://www.planeteu.com/events/carnival-venice/
This mask is the whole face, with a stubborn chin line, no mouth, and lots of "gilding". One may find masks sold as Bautas that cover only the upper part of the face from the forehead to the nose and upper cheeks, thereby concealing identity but enabling the wearer to talk and eat or drink easily. It tends to be the main type of mask worn during the Carnival.
The origin of Bauta is lost in time. The use of this mask, by men and women, has intensified since the eighteenth century and continued into modern Carnival. The Venice Bauta can be divided into: the Bauta mask or Larva (Latin: 'ghost' or 'mask'), a simple mask that hides the face but allows for eating and drinking, and the Bauta costume, a Venice Carnival dress including a mantle, or cloak, dark in color, a black three-cornered hat and the Larva. Among the different Venice Carnival outfits, the Bauta has always had a leading role. Used often in theater and festivals, the Venetian Bauta was also worn in daily life, to court or be courted in mutual anonymity.
After a long absence of 180 years, including being banned by Mussolini, the Italian government in 1979 decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of their efforts.
Photo Credit: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters -- Source:
Photo By Christophe Simon/Afp/Getty Images
The Portale de Venezia "Carnivale in Venice" Site