The Culture of the Venice Carnival The Venice Carnival first started in the 14th century. The word carnival, in Italian carnevale, Latin meaning means to take away or remove meat. Carnival takes place just before Lent, the forty days that mark a season of sorrowful reflection, fasting and abstinence from fruit, eggs, meat, and dairy products. Carnival has so many different meaning for not only the Venetian people but to people all over the world.
There are different variations of carnival all around the world. The history of carnival is deep and spreads through each generation differently but it is something that needs to be looked into with more depth and explored. Originally the Venice Carnival was a two month long period of feasting before the rigors of Lent, by the 18th century the Venetian Carnival season began in October and lasted five months.
During this time of partying, people of all social classes mingled and cavorted, their identities hidden behind all manner of masks, By the end of the century, Carnival had become so important that the death of Doge Paolo Renier, a Venetian statesman, the 119th, and penultimate, Doge of Venice, on February 13, 1789 was concealed from the public so as not to disturb the merrymaking. Carnival is the link between the theatricalization of Venice on the streets and the management of her mythology on the stage.
On the most basic level, carnival provided an opportunity for a Christian society to explore precisely those pleasures that would be forbidden during Lent, albeit with links to pagan traditions. Sobriety, self-denial, and abstinence-behaviors deemed necessary for the contemplation of Christ’s own sacrifice- were this preface by a period of unmitigated leisure, excess, and carnality. Carnival was the time in which all officially sanctioned rules could be overturned. Sacred and secular rituals could be parodied; the low could imitate the high, and the high took the opportunity to mingle with the low.
Varieties of spectacles, pleasures, and illegal activities were associated with carnival, ranging from the playful to the violent: fireworks, acrobatics, pantomimes, balls, mock and genuine battles, athletic feats, and a host of theatrical undertakings. During this brief period, sexual freedom was matched by licentiousness in song and poetry; courtesans mingled more freely with the population and disguise allowed for ambiguity in class and gender. In carnival, the flesh rather than spirit became the guiding force.
The relationship of carnival to official culture in Venice is particularly complex, raising perennially problematic issues about the function of such events within any given society. Mikhail Bakhtin has emphasized the universal qualities that link all carnival phenomena, and its various stages through history. In his view, “carnival is an act of renewal and redemption, on that opens up an almost Utopian space for the people in which the celebration of the grotesque body provides social cohesion for an otherwise disenfranchised populace. 2 A number of scholars have since challenged aspects of Bakhtin’s ideology, noting instead the complex ways in which carnival interacts with the structures that it purports to dismantle. During the period of carnival the gangs would challenge each other in games such as the Ballo della Moresca and the Forze d’Ercole. These games commonly reflected various Venetian attributes and celebrated historial events.
The theme of War Engines could be identified in the Macchina dei Fuochi (Machine of the flames), the Venetians’ martial prowess in the storming of the walls at Aquileia by the Forze d’Ercole (strength of Hercules as Human Pyramids), battle in the Ball della Moresca (Dance of the Moor), law and justice in the Tagilo dell Testa del Toro (decapitating the Bull) and peace in the form of the Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel or Turk). The Forze d’Ercole consisted of two human pyramids, representing two popular factions of the town.
There were the Castellani, the inhabitants of districts of the Sestiere di Castello, San Marco and Dorsoduro who challenged the Nicolotti the inhabitants of Dorsoduro, near the Church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, San Pol, Cannareggio, and Santa Croce. The Volo del Turco (the flight of the Turk), later called II Volvo dell’Angelo (the flight of the Angel) celebrates an exhibition that was originally given by an Turkish acrobat in the 16th century and later by volunteer Arsenalotti (from the Arsenale).
From a barge docked by Saint Mark’s, the Turk would climb a rope aided by a balancing rod to the top of the belfry of the belltower, Campanile, and the descend upside down along the Loggia Foscara of the Palazzo Ducale, giving flowers and reciting poems of the Doge. From the middle of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century, the organization of the carnival festivities was delegated to the Compagnie di Calze. These associations of young Venetian nobles could be distinguished by their variously multicolored patterned hose.
Each stocking group had imaginative names which were inspired by and reflected particular virtues; Florid ones, United ones, and of the Concorde (Floridi, degli Uniti, e dei Concodi); others derived their names from contemporary worksOrtolani, Zardinieri, Cortesi and the Sempiterni. The aim of these groups was to create and prepare the entertainment and shows during the carnival. Between 1487 and 1565 there were 23 different groups throughout Venice. The eighteenth century was the heyday of Carnival.
Venice’s decline in power was accompanied by a conspicuous consumption of pleasure. Rich young nobles doing the European “Grand Tour” made sure these pleasures were theirs as well. The paintings of Francesco Guardi and the diaries of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) are the best-known symbols of the age – the languid spirit of carnival an ever-present implication. Also the wearing of masks by the Venetians continued for six months of the years as the original religious association and significance with carnival diminished.
On October 17th, 1797 Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798 and it fell into a decline which also effectively brought carnival celebrations to a halt for many years. Carnival’s significance declined gradually through to the 1930s, when Mussolini banned it. In 1979, a group of Venetians and lovers of Venice decided to revive the tradition.
Within a few years, the image of the masked reveler had become a worldwide icon of Venice in winter. It is celebrated by tourists and Venetians alike and has grown to become an internationally renowned event. Sebastiano Giorgi said “the Venice Carnival is anyway an adventure worth to be experienced; better if you can do it with a native friend! ”4 Unlike many Venetian celebrations that remain almost unknown to the public, Venice Carnival seems to be thriving as much as it ever did.
There are many entertainments and interesting performances, aside of the real parties in Venetian taste that are often hidden for the large public, which is more like to enjoy the Venice Carnival on the road. The Carnival of today is a magnificent event that involves major sponsors, television networks, and cultural foundations that draws crowds of onlookers from around the world with thousands of masks in celebration and in a bright and peaceful occupation of Laguna. Carnival today is the result of evolution and integration of many events and historical events over the centuries.
Among the streets of the beautiful city, for about ten days, there is a continuous theatre of joy and playfulness-all in masks to celebrate the charm of a world of dancing, jokes, galas exclusive and romantic encounters. In a poem dedicated to the Carnival, Carlo Goldoni represents the spirit of the festival like this: “Qui la moglie e la il marito Ognuno va dove gli par Ognun corre a qualche invito, chi a giocar chi a ballar”. “Here the wife and husband there Everyone goes where he wishes Everyone runs to some invitation, who to play Who to dance. 6 In Venice, carnival is not merely a decoration or a tourist attraction, nor was it an act of rebellion by an oppressed populace; rather it was a necessary feature of Venetian existence, built into the system. In some respects, carnival made possible the dynamic tension between Venetian liberty and conservatism, providing a space and time in which the balance of opposites shifted- albeit temporarily- in the direction if the former. The carnival has and always will give people the chance to be someone different and be free from their daily mundane activities.
The Venice Carnival is a testament of the history of that city and how even now that history has helped to define that city and make it who she is today. Bibliography 1. Mentzel, Peter. A Traveller’s History of Venice. Interlink Publishing Group, Incorporated. 2. Heller, Wndy. Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice. University of California Press. 3. Davis, Robert C. ; Garry R. Marvin. Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City. University of California Press. 4.
Moretti, John. Frommer’s Northern Italy: Including Venice, Milan ; the Lakes. Wiley, John ; Sons, Incorporated. 5. Hoberman, Gerald. Carnival in Venice. Hoberman Collection Inc. 6. Danforth Newcomb, Florence. The Carnival of Venice and Other Poems. Read Books Design. 7. Brown, JC. Carnival Masks of Venice: A Photographic Essay. Artists and Photographers Press Limited. 8. http://www. visitvenice. co. uk/venice-carnival. html 9. http://www. studyenglishtoday. net/venice-carnival. html 10. http://www. delpiano. com/carnival/html/venice_car. html