Carnival, or carnevale is celebrated traditionally around the two weeks running up to Lent. But in the decadent times of the 18th century Venice started celebrating carnival as early as late December creating social clubs, and secret circles where the elite and nobility could meet discretely behind the mystery of their masks. Complete annonimity could be found behind the Bauta or a simple Domino. Behind these masks debauchery, adultery and mischief ran rampant all under the disguise of the festival of carnevale.
As Venice’s notoriety grew, specific laws and regulations were put in place such as the wearing of masks was carried out only at the time of Carnival. Masks could not be worn in churches, nor could men wear women’s masks or women wear a man’s mask, prostitutes could not wear masks either.
Today masks and costumes can be colourful and flamboyant, yet the most traditional and recognized masks are those from the famous Commedia dell’Arte, a commonly known cast of 18th century theater characters, including among them the much beloved Pulchinella, or Punch, the colourful Arlecchino or Harlequin, and Scaramouche. While over the years the exactness of details may have changed, however, their masks always keep to certain specific characteristics along with their costumes so as to always be recognized on stage. Arlecchino for example always wears a colourful diamond patterned outfit which many times will be seen on his mask, Pulcinella will always have a bit of a hook nose and wear a clown outfit.
Many of the iconic images we know today come from this particular time in Venice’s history. There was a reason Casanova loved Venice, La Serenissima knew how to throw a party!