In stark contrast to Carnival festivities in Rio, New Orleans and
elsewhere, the Carnival of Venice, like the city that hosts it, is as much a
period piece as it is a hedonistic celebration. Banned in the late 18th century
and resurrected by the Italian government in the 1970s as part of its attempt
to promote Venetian culture, Carnival (called Carnevale in Italian) centers on the profusion of masks worn by the
city’s residents and the tens of thousands of visitors who attend the
The dates for Carnival change every year, as they’re connected to the
liturgical year rather than the calendar year, and the celebration does take place just before Lent and culminates on Fat Tuesday, Martedi Grasso in
Italian. In 2015, Carnevale takes place January 31 through February 17.
Theater & Feasting
While Carnival in Venice may have been more wild centuries ago, the
modern version is much more stately. Still, it’s an invitation for participants
to express themselves through elaborate costumes and masks, and it’s a festival
known for its sensual overtones. Carnival is, in many ways, about excess.
Acting troupes and performers engage in various forms of “commedia dell'arte," or improvised performances of theater, juggling and comedy, and there's also the epic proportions of traditional Venetian food and wine that are consumed.
Whenever you choose to join in the festivities, you’ll first have to
choose a mask. Throughout the festival, revelers conceal their identities with
various styles of the fashionable face covers, while some historians believe masks were originally used
during Carnival to erase the lines between classes in a very class-driven
society, allowing people from all walks of life to mingle in a way that was
impossible at any other time of year. Today, the masks are simply a festive
part of any good Carnival costume.
One type of mask is the Bautas, which was once only worn by men. Usually gilded with a pronounced chin line that doesn't conceal the mouth, these masks can be worn by anyone today. A Columbina mask covers half the face, exposing the mouth and lower part
of the face. Morettas, oval masks made of velvet, are typically worn by women.
The standard Venetian Carnival masks, however, are Voltos or Larvas, often simple, white and unadorned. They cover the entire face, and the
mouths on them are always closed and slightly pursed.