Venice Carnival 2013 ...the start / by Marco Secchi

The last week end saw the beginning of the 2013 Venice Carnival, despite the official opening being on the 2nd of February. The Carnival of Venice (Italian: Carnevale di Venezia) is an annual festival, held in Venice, Italy. The Carnival ends with Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Martedì Grasso), the day before Ash Wednesday.

It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory of the "Repubblica della Serenissima", Venice's previous name, against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and become official in the renaissance. The festival declined during the 18th century.

After a long absence, the Carnival returned to operate in 1979. The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of their efforts. Today, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for Carnivals. One of the most important events is the contest for the best mask, placed at the last weekend of the Carnival. A jury of international costume and fashion designers votes for "La Maschera più bella".

Masks on display inside the workshop of Mascareri in Venice. Artisans, masks and costumes makers are getting ready ahead of Venice Carnival 2013 (Marco Secchi)

Masks have always been a main feature of the Venetian carnival. Traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) and the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. They have always been around Venice. As masks were also allowed on Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large portion of the year in disguise. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild.

Venetian masks can be made in leather, porcelain or with the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design, decoration, and often had a symbolic and practical function. Nowadays, most of them are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.

Today saw the opening of the Venetian Carnival, which runs till February 12th. Members of  French theatre company, Ilotopie,performed on the Cannaregio Canal and along its banks (Marco Secchi)

There is very little evidence explaining the motive for the earliest mask wearing in Venice. One scholar argues that covering the face in public was a uniquely Venetian response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history.[1]

The first documented sources mentioning the use of masks in Venice can be found as far back as the 13th century. The Great Council made it a crime to throw scented eggs.The document decrees that masked persons were forbidden to gamble.

Another law in 1339 forbade Venetians from wearing vulgar disguises and visiting nun's convents while masked. The law also prohibits painting one's face, or wearing false beards or wigs.

Near the end of the Republic, the wearing of masks in daily life was severely restricted. By the 18th century, it was limited only to about three months from December 26. The masks were traditionally worn with decorative beads matching in color.

Today saw the second day of the Venetian Carnival, which runs till February 12th. A water procession took place on the Grand Canal (Marco Secchi)