As I promised in the Eurozine newsletter last week, I am sharing my photos from Carnevale in Venice this year. These images were captured before local cases of COVID-19 triggered regional quarantines and Carnevale events were suspended.
Venice is a magical place in the weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday. Its Carnevale tradition dates back to the 13th century, though some trace it back as far as 1094. In the late 1200s through the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1798, the time leading up to Lent was celebrated in costume and mask.
Celebrations were banned under Austrian control and the tradition of the festival went dormant until 1979, when it was revived. Today’s festival unfolds over weeks, bringing bright color and festive cheer to the dull gray of winter in the lagoon.
Locals and visitors parade through town in traditional costume. Elaborate and expensive dresses like these are normally rented. Masks remind revelers of a time when Venice’s denizens craved privacy and anonymity in the close confines of this small city even in the days outside of Carnevale.
Today’s party attracts people from the surrounding areas in all modes of costume. There is plenty of kitsch, as families and gangs of friends dress up as if for Halloween. While some look ready for a ball, others are dressed as superheros and monsters.
The event has evolved with our culture. There is some splendid and very artistic drag. The best costumes are very creative and colorful, even hand made. The tradition of the masquerade is expanding.
Carnevale is on trend too, captivating a younger crowd. Among the mass produced masks at the souvenir stands, there are some intriguing steampunk designs.
But in the end I am a sucker for the classic dress of a bygone era. People in costume are happy to stop and pose for photos. While there are plenty of lavish balls and private events, you get a lot of the flavor out on the streets.
A more courtly look is always in style. Confetti is a mainstay, and spontaneous dancing and musical performances break out in campos around town, along with organized public performances and events.
Hand made masks are expensive but creative and lovely. Finery like this is available in studios and boutiques around town throughout the year. It is exciting at Carnevale to see decorative arts like these actually in use!
It is more fun still to watch people go about their daily business in full dress. Looking back at my photos 10 days later, it is a timely reminder that life and lunch carry on.
It is hard to believe that I took these photos less than two weeks ago, ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. Though the number of cases in Venice is small, there are local quarantines, and officials have cancelled public Carnevale events and temporarily closed museums. Among the locked churches are ones built in gratitude for the end of the plague.
While the news of the quarantine is dramatic, it is a sensible approach and should be effective in containing this coronavirus. We trust that this too shall pass and Venice will return soon to her former glory, these tense days just a short chapter in her long and grand history.