European Carnivals encapsulates the spirit of decadence and the Venice Carnival is no exception, even the word itself is steeped in a tradition of excess.
How did carnival come about?
Carnival comes from the latin words Carnem, meaning meat and Levare, meaning to bid farewell and is traditionally just before lent. During lent Christians forgo many luxuries to relive the suffering Jesus went through during his time in the desert, so Carnival is a traditional time of partying and excess to bid farewell to luxuries such as meat. Began in the 12th century with its masks following about 100 years later, it saw its heyday in the 18th century when young nobles took gap-years to party and tour Europe culminating in a period of erotic revelry at the Venice Carnival.
The Carnival masks of Venice
The masks used during carnival are varied and exquisite, made from a variety of materials like leather, wax cloth, glass and gold leaf, there are a few types used which one will commonly see during the celebrations.
The Volto Mask is the simplest and most common, it’s usually white and easy to drink and eat in and is meant to look spooky at night when the reveller wears only black.
The Moretta Mask is a ladies’ mask which is simpler looking than other and is sometimes fitted with a bit on the inside on to which the wearer must bite to hold the mask in place. It was intended to keep the female wearer quiet and is not used much since the 18th century.
The Bauta Mask is a square looking mask with a protruding and pointed chin which allows the wearer to drink and eat easily without removing the mask.
The Columbine Mask is the famous half-face mask which covers the eyes and is usually decorated with feathers, it can be tied or held to the face by being attached to a long hand-held stick.
The Medico Della Peste Mask is probably the most famous of the Venetian masks with it’s bizarre white beak. It has a creepy history as being a mask worn by plague doctors in the 1500’s, the breathing apparatus would be kept in the nose and pieces of crystal placed in the eye holes to protect the doctor from infection!
There you have it, some food for thought if you’re contemplating your outfit to the Venetian Carnival!
Top image from gnuckx on Flickr
Other images from US Army Africa