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Venice Carnival Costume Parade

Updated on November 6, 2014

Come to the Masquerade - Celebrating the Costume Parade of the Venetian Carnival

The costume parade of the Carnival of Venice, like any magnificent theatrical event, has two essential parts - the costumed performers who pose behind their masks, and the audience who revels in the annual February spectacle. Whichever side of the festival's costume parade you're on, there's nothing quite as magical as Il Carnevale di Venezia.

Welcome, friends, to the masquerade...

Italy's Colorful History on Parade

See the Acknowledgments section, below, to learn about Samo Trebizan, the photographer whose glorious Venice Carnival portraits are featured here.
See the Acknowledgments section, below, to learn about Samo Trebizan, the photographer whose glorious Venice Carnival portraits are featured here. | Source

From a 12th century celebration of the passing of winter before the self-imposed deprivations of Lent, enveloping the theatrical pageantry of the Commedia dell'Arte and its iconic characters and costumes, the Venice Carnival adapted as the decades passed to absorb and reflect elements of Italy's turbulent history.

Unique Costumes with a Long History - Fancy Dress for Mardi Gras and Carnivale Masquerade

The extravagant costumes worn by men and women in Il Carnevale di Venezia began as a way for nobles and commoners to mingle without revealing their identities. The tradition gave rise to decadence and permissiveness that did not find favour with the Church, and for a time the wearing of masks was banned from Italy.

Carnival of Venice

Il Carnevale di Venezia survived 150 years' hiatus before it was resurrected - gloriously, triumphantly, and with unparallelled excess in the matter of costume - in the 1970s. Today the Venetian Carnival remains as popular an attraction, for both residents of the city of Venice and visiting tourists alike, as it ever has been in its long and colourful history. And among all the breathtaking banquets and balls, the showpiece of this romantic canal city's pre-Lent celebration is surely the parade of costumes!

Cream and Ruffles

Venice Carneval
Venice Carneval | Source

Costume Makers Prepare for Venice Carnival

With weeks to go before the big celebration, AFP sent a crew out to interview some of Venice's most prestigious costume makers as they frantically worked to create the elaborate made-to-measure costumes - priced at 1500 Euros or more - that make the Venetian Carnival one of the world's most spectacular public celebrations.

Venice Carnival ~ Carnevale di Venezia, Italiana 2010 (Italy) by anja_johnson, on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Venice Carnival ~ Carnevale di Venezia, Italiana 2010 (Italy) by anja_johnson, on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Queen of the Handmade Costumes

A native of Hamburg, Germany, Tanja Schulz-Hess made her first visit to the Carnival as a tourist a decade ago, fell in love with the spectacle, and ever since has returned as an active participant.

She won the top costume prize for three years in a row in her own original handmade costumes she's designed and created herself - and the self-taught designer doesn't even know how to sew.

Believe it or not, some of Tanja's most striking costumes are made from old curtains of velvet, damask, and other rich fabrics, picked up in a flea market, and she pieces the costumes together with a glue gun. (In fact, she glued together her own wedding dress!)

Her secret?

It's all in the details...

Tanja Schulz-Hess on TV

Wherever she goes, Tanja Schulz-Hess draws quite a crowd - at least when she's in Venice, dressed in one of her own magnificent carnival costumes. Here, a Deutsche-Welle TV crew tracks her as she promenades through a recent Carnival in the costume of Marie Antoinette.

Colourful Venetian Carnival Masks

The distinctive masks are a centuries old tradition in Venice. Mask makers or mascherari enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild. During the Carnival, people were allowed to wear masks to conceal their identity from others while conversing. The best masks are papier mache or Cartapesta.

Broadcast format available at: - Music title Scheming Weasel slower by Kevin MacLeod ( licensed under Creative Commons "Attribution 3.0"

Carnival of Venice - Masks

Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival; traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) at the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday.

Masks - Elegant and Exotic Masques for Mardi Gras Disguise

Each of the styles has a story behind it - each has an aura of mystery and, in some cases, menace. When you look at some of the traditional designs, it's not hard to understand why the wearing of masks was banned at Carnivale for so long, and why going in masquerade here and elsewhere, even today, seems to bring out a whole different side of one's character.

Ornate Zanni Mask Green & Gold Venetian Style Halloween Masquerade
Ornate Zanni Mask Green & Gold Venetian Style Halloween Masquerade
The long-nosed vaguely sinister mask of the Plague Doctor, for example, is drawn straight from Italy's history, from the dark days of the bubonic plague across Europe. With the limited medical knowledge of the time, it was believed that a mask with a cone-shaped face piece stuffed with herbs would sweeten the tainted air and keep the local physician safe from the deadly illness affecting his patience. When you see the Zanni mask, it's a elaborate nod to that dark time in the past.

Baroque Beauties

Venice Mask
Venice Mask | Source
Womens Venetian Masquerade Silver and Black Mask with Feather, Flower, and Glitter Design
Womens Venetian Masquerade Silver and Black Mask with Feather, Flower, and Glitter Design
Variations on the iconic sweet expressionless white-porcelain-doll mask are wildly creative, with gilt or gemstone embellishments and cutaways, ribbons and feathers, whatever the mask artist feels will express the character in a unique, attractive way that is - frankly - often a bit menacing in its immobile beauty.

Blue Bird of Mischief


La Vita Teatro. Tutti in Maschera.

"Life is a theater,

and we are all wearing a mask"

Silver Jester

Venice Mask
Venice Mask | Source


The six feature photographs identified as "Baroque Beauties," "Bluebird of Mischief," "Cream and Ruffles," "Silver Jester," and "Venetian Militia" are the work of photographer Samo Trebizan, © 123RF Stock Photos, used here by permission.

Samo Trebizan is a professional photographer in Slovenia. In addition to his portfolio at 123RF, do have a look at Samo's website, and blog "On the wings of wind into eternity of a moment." These sites are full of wonderful examples of his work, along with more information about his approach to photography. Although Samo writes primarily in Slovenian, some of the material has been translated into English. Enjoy!

© 2011 flycatcherrr


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