One of the very first paintings I ever did was of the Venice Carnival. French people seem fascinated by it and frankly, I didn't know much about it at the time. Doing research on the subject meant looking at the most amazing costumes. Such drama, color and creativity all in one place was a sight for sore eyes. I enjoyed doing this painting very much and I later sold it to a restaurant owner in Vienna, Austria. At the time I could never understand why the Austrians seemed so fascinated by this event. This lead me to start searching for more information.
The Venice Carnival is the most internationally known festival celebrated in Venice, Italy, as well as being one of the oldest. The oldest document pertaining to the use of masks in Venice dates back to 2nd May 1268. Finally the rise of the French and later the Austrians curbed the celebrations, but they effectively ended when Napoleon invaded Venice. After an interruption lasting almost two centuries, the Carnival was resurrected in 1979 and today the masked revelers are an icon of Venice tourism. For a very long time it became prohibited to wear masks in public but during the second Austrian government it was once again permitted to wear masks. This explains the French and Austrian interest and why my painting was sought after there.
The Carnival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnevale is derived from the Latin and means to give up meat and implies a farewell dinner of steaks and stews that the Catholics would later refrain from during the weeks before Easter. The masked pageant harks back to the Roman tradition of a fertility festival where the aristocracy and the slaves wore masks.
Today it's an appreciated cocktail of tradition, entertainment, history and transgression in a unique city, a festival that attracts thousands of people from around the world each year. It is a festival that celebrates the passage from winter into spring, a time when seemingly anything is possible, including the illusion where the most humble of classes become the most powerful by wearing masks on their faces.
One day I hope to be able to visit during the time of the Carnival. With all that color and vibrancy, how could you not feel inspired.
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