Photographer's Note

One in a series of photographs taken in Venice on a foggy weekend in February 1989. All were taken on slide film and have recently been digitised and then cleaned up using Photoshop CS2 and Neat Image.

By chance I happened to be in Venice at Carnival time and the shop windows were full of masks like the ones in this photograph, which looked quite eerie in the foggy atmosphere.

This information about the history of the Carnival in Venice is taken from the official web site:

“Carnival's roots delve into many traditions, from the Latin Saturnalia celebrations to the Greek Dionysos cults, which marked the transition from winter to spring and which used to resort to masks and other symbolical representations. It was a period when all was apparently permitted, and it seemed to represent the myth of a topsy-turvy world. In reality Carnival was also a form of rigid control over human urges, and the thrust towards excesses constituted a gracious concession for a given duration of time. And in Venice, which was a society governed rigidly by a chosen few, it was necessary to give the lower classes an illusion of becoming like the powerful, even though with a masked countenance: social tensions were thus watered down, and consensus maintained.

Carnival was particularly long. It normally began on December 26 and ended on Ash Wednesday, but often permission was granted to use masks beginning from October 1, and it was not unusual to hold parties and banquets even well into Lent. Also, during the Sensa (Ascension) festivity, which lasted 15 days, masks and disguises were allowed. In brief, Carnival lasted several months, and this has certainly contributed to the creation of the image of Venice as a city given to enjoyment.

In this climate of amusement gaming could not be absent, and the Ridotto at St Moisé, the public gaming house run by the State, became one of the crucial places of Venetian Carnival. Between 1638 (opening year) and 1774 (closing year) thousands of masked gamesters poured a river of ducats out of their pockets into the State coffers. The Ridotto was open exclusively during Carnival (which however lasted for months), and the only persons exempted from wearing masks were croupiers, the so called barnabotti, impoverished Venetian aristocrats.

In its last century of life, the Republic (which capitulated with the French invasion in 1797) may only seem to concentrate on the outer frivolous aspects of life, although reality was much more complex. At this time, Carnival started to become a tourist attraction all over Europe, with its parties, plays, masks and theatres, and public Gaming House, welcoming thousands of curious visitors wanting to be part of such a peculiar and effervescent atmosphere: Venice became "The magnet of Europe":

In the plays of Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) Carnival is mentioned so often that his writings have become a precious documentary source. Those same comedies were performed during the Carnival season, mentioned in some of his most famous plays, like La vedova scaltra, Le massere, Le morbinose, I rusteghi, Una delle ultime sere di Carnovale. Goldoni is certainly not benevolent towards the luxury and vice on parade during Carnival, and his performances offer a simple and austere type of entertainment.

Giacomo Casanova is the character who best represents the pleasure-seeking, lusty, and decadent side of 18th century Venice. A very complex and faceted personality, while still alive considered a magician, man of letters, spy, libertine, prison-breaker, passionate gambler, faker, traitor, seducer, card cheater, poet, slanderer, con-man, villain, blasphemer, alchemist. Protected by his trademark mask, he attended the best drawing rooms, the most fashionable theatres, and the Ridotto, where he squandered gold ducats at the card tables, and at times the most squalid houses of pleasure were not beneath him: everywhere he went he left a whiff of scandal, frenzy and liveliness.”

Nowadays, Carnival lasts only about two weeks. The next edition of the Carnival of Venice runs from 26 January to 5 February 2008.

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Additional Photos by Stephen Nunney (snunney) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 9178 W: 63 N: 25818] (114401)
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