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The Venetian Carnival or “Carnevale”

By: Victor Sanchez

The Venetian carnival or “carnevale,” as it is known in Italian, is a festival held in Venice every year. It has deep cultural roots and is a very famous tradition in Italian culture. The festival is well known for its amazing and elaborate costumes, disguises and masks that the locals create every year for the sole purpose of celebrating the long held tradition and festivities. The festival’s traditions go back to renaissance times when the celebrations became a recurring annual tradition. It is usually held in the beautiful San Marco square in Venice, but it has increasingly become a celebration through all zones of Italy. In an effort to turn back to its cultural roots, the Italian government reinstated the celebrations of the festival and promoted the development and selling of the famous festival masks, which have since become an attraction for the millions of tourists that flock to Venice for the festivities. These celebrations also incorporate mask competitions in which judges from different fields of fashion and art gather to judge the most creative and beautiful masks of the festival.

There are various styles of masks that are inspired in the customs of the renaissance era and the traditional art form of theatre called “commedia dell’arte” which began in the sixteenth century. Its various characters are a source of inspiration to create the beautiful costumes worn during those days. One of the more famous styles of masks is called the “bauta”. This one is an eccentric piece that covers the whole face in order to conserve the anonymity of the person and it also has an exaggerated beak-like nose and chin that gives room to the wearer so he or she is able to eat and drink without having to take off the masks as to not giving away one’s identity. Usually in the renaissance times everybody aimed for anonymity to make the celebrations more exciting and also it permitted the person to do things that would otherwise be shamed by the church at the time.

Another traditional style is the “columbina” which is a half mask that covers the area of the eyes and the nose, and it is typically decorated with crystals or feathers. It is used more commonly being held up to the face with a small stick on the side or with a ribbon tied up around the back of the head. This mask is more modern but it is still inspired by one of the characters of the traditional theatre the ‘columbine’ from which the name comes.

The festival is truly a beautiful and inspiring thing to experience. It takes into consideration traditions that were set centuries ago and brings them to life once again in an unforgettable way, at least until next year’s celebration. The 2013 year event was held from February 15 to March 4. The next ‘carnevale’ in 2014 will start January 31 and the festivities will go on until February 17.

Here’s an interesting link to the event’s website: http://www.carnevale.venezia.it

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