Today is the last day of the famous 10 day long Carnival of Venice. A flickr pool offers some lovely photos from the 2009 celebrations and I recommend these costume portraits taken by Salvano Candeo which were taken in 2006. I think these are some of his best. (His entire body of work can be found here.)
The carnival has decidedly Pagan origins, involving gifts to the gods of the sea and ceremonies we can easily recognize as fertility rituals and celebrations related to spring. Visit Venice notes that:
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 licentiousness and wantonry were celebrated - a deliberate upturning of the usual social order.Over the centuries, various Popes tried to ban, contain or change the carnival with little or no result. The Republic of Venice and it's citizens were famous for their independence and Rome had much less influence in Venice then it did in other parts of Italy and Europe.
Agenda Venezia notes this about the masks and costumes worn during this event:
Carnival meant performances in theatres, in palazzi, in coffee-shops and in small playhouses, but above all it meant a climate of widespread festivity in which ordinary people and nobles, all wearing masks, mingled with dancers and jugglers, with vendors of balsams and cooked apple, with commedia dell'arte actors and snake charmers. In this climate of festivity the mask was the only possibility, in a society of social barriers, for everyone to be considered equal. The most common disguise in Venice in XVIII century was the bauta which consisted of the larva (a mask which was initially black, then of white oilcloth), of the bauta in the strict sense of the word with lace and veil, of the tricorno (a black three-cornered hat) and of the black tabarro (a silk or woollen cloak). There were numerous rites and ceremonies initially of pagan origin which were then transformed in the celebration of the power and grandeur of the Serenissima. War could be identified in the Macchina dei Fuochi (Fire Machine), the Venetians' dexterity in storming the walls of Aquileia in the Forze d'Ercole (Human Pyramids), battle in the Ballo della Moresca (Moorish Dance), justice in the Taglio della testa al toro (Decapitating the Bull) and peace in the Volo dell'Angelo (Flight of the Angel)... The other culminating moments include the water procession, with festively decorated boats and masked rowers, which concludes with fireworks against the evocative backdrop of the Cannaregio Canal, the flight of the dove which marks the beginning of Carnival, and the final grand ball on Shrove Tuesday in St. Mark's Square.Tonight is also Oscar Night in the United States. This is also a celebration involving the display of (mostly) youth, beauty, costumes (various) and a demonstration of money and power in a city obsessed with same. Ah, spring. Ah, Hugh Jackman. He can be my Green Man any time he wants. (1)
Enjoy the photos,
Related Articles: Venice: The Goddess of Beauty or Desire (an online exhibitation)
Photo: Golden Mask found at Kiwi Collection website
(1) (sigh) I speak in admiration only. Both Mr. Jackman and I are both (happily and faithfully) married to other people. This is not as unusual, either in Hollywood or among Pagans, as one might think. Sorry, Hugh. T'was not to be.