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Home arrow VENICENESS arrow Carnem Levare: the roots of the carnival
Carnem Levare: the roots of the carnival
Written by Marta Fontana   

svolo.jpgCarnival, from Latin carnem levare, taking out meat, originates from Medieval tradition of a banquet, at the end of a lengthy feast, to say farewell to meat the night before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lenten fasting. The need to don a mask before indulging into euphoria is most ancient, and many a times a similarity between carnival and Roman fest Saturnalia has been commented.

 

The celebrations were the apex of splendour in many countries in epochs past, though no one could rival Venice. In town, people would wear masks since October, with the peak of festivities being Saint Stephen’s day. Some years would leave their trace in history for the opulence and luxury of their carnivals, as did the one in 1542. Patriarch Marco Grimani offered a banquet and a show within it: once pies had been served and cut, colourful birds would fly out of them and around the salon. Also year 1571 – right after Venice won over the Turks in Lepanto – proved memorable, and so did those of 1578 for its parades of floats and horses and of 1696 for its lengthy parade of noblemen in drag.

 

Masks were countless: Arlecchino, Pantalone, Balanzone, Brighella, Pulcinella, Colombina the most traditional, but also drag (again!) both ways, fake priests and nuns, Arabs merchants, devils, witches. An orgy of colours, sounds, and laughter. Nothing could be more inviting for libertine dames and brave-faced Casanovas, anecdotes abound!

 

sanmarco2.jpgVery famous were also Elena Priuli’s profligate carnivals. Elena was married to powerful statesman Federico Venier, but she would use her own private casino’s veranda to spot her prey and, once she made her choice, she would seduce him concealed in typical mask bautta. Legend has it that to avoid embarrassing encounters, a secret exit under the bridge was built. Terrain of conquest for young hopefuls were the many women’s covenants in Venice.

 

We know that in year 1643 English gentleman John Bren, attaché of the English embassy, failed in his attempt to take with him a beautiful nun from the Giudecca because sisters, oh the envious, opposed her getaway. No more to say, this party, in the words of author Pompeo Molmenti, suited perfectly the nature of a people that wanted no melancholy, passed their time in carnivals and feasts, and relieved with a laughter even the gloomiest mood.

 

«Venice Carnival 2013»
26-27 January, 2-12 February
Info www.carnevale.venezia.it

Photos courtesy Venezia Marketing & Eventi