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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

Share your Venice Carnvial memories!

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    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 4 years ago from Burbank, CA

      I did this one year with some friends it was awesome!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      @ologsinquito2: I have a wonderful pair of mask earrings from a little shop on one of the bridges, can't recall exactly which one now, but just looking at the white-and-glitter miniature faces has a way of bringing back the whole Carnival pageantry in a wave of memories.

    • ologsinquito2 profile image

      ologsinquito2 4 years ago

      This is something I'd love to see. My in-laws went to Venice and returned with a beautiful mask for my daughter.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Looks like a fantastic time! I have been to Italy and loved it, although I didn't make it to Venice. Venice is on my bucket list though.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      @Margaret Schindel: Thank you! I am so grateful to Samo for taking such great photographs.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      What a vibrant and fascinating lens! I've never seen the Venice Carnival in person, but loved the vicarious visit you've provided. Blessed!

    • CoeGurl profile image

      CoeGurl 5 years ago from USA

      These costumes are so beautiful and elegant.

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 5 years ago

      Never been to Venice, but I would love to go - especially around Carnival time. This lens is gorgeous - as are all venetian Carnival masks!!!

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 5 years ago from Perth UK

      I've been to the Venice carnival and it was fantastic. The weather as cold and wet, but that just made Venice all the more atmospheric. The costumes were magical and it was an unforgettable week. I would recommend it to everyone.

    • srsddn lm profile image

      srsddn lm 5 years ago

      Quite interesting and gorgeous images.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      The Venice Carnival is tops on my bucket list - and your lens is the next best thing to going in person. Incredible job on this lens. Blessed and featured on "Still Wing-ing it on Squidoo."

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Ah, the beauty and mystery of Venice Carnival. Been there, but didn't arrive for the Carnival. The masks were fabulous to see in person.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Wonderful stuff here - I learned a lot, mainly that I want to go to Venice for Carnival sometime. I thought the stuff about Tanja Schulz-Hess was very interesting, I think I would like to check out those flea markets in Hamburg that she shops at and gets her materials for her fabulous costumes.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      What amazing masks!

    • Art-Aspirations profile image

      Art-Aspirations 6 years ago


    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 6 years ago from USA

      Love Venice -- a truly amazing place, even without Carnivale --

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 6 years ago

      @baileyvisuals: I'd love to see a collection of your Venice photographs!

    • baileyvisuals profile image

      baileyvisuals 6 years ago

      Love it! Been a couple of times but never in carnival time, all I remember being there last January minus 30, only way to keep warm lots of alcohol :) Apart from that got some great images. Great lens.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 6 years ago

      @Hairdresser007: That sounds like an amazing time. And good on you, going with the page costume - I never had the knees to pull the tights (as it were) for that one. ;)

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 6 years ago from Burbank, CA

      I went one year with friends. It was amazing. We stayed at an apartment and drank so much red wine our teeth were stained. My costume was a page costume. Such a great time!

    • nyclittleitaly profile image

      nyclittleitaly 6 years ago

      I was never in Venice during the Carnival but looking at this lens put me right into the thick of it. Great lens.

    • profile image

      entertainmentev 6 years ago

      I wish I could go. Adding it to my bucket list :) The costumes are extravagant and gorgeous!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 6 years ago

      @Daphsam LM: Thanks, Daphsam! This has a way to go yet, of course, but Venice is so romantic and colourful... sigh...

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Well everybody should visit Carnival in Venice, it is really an spectacular event!I am glad to see my photograps presenting the feeling at carnivals all through the article :)See you all on next carnival!

    • Daphsam LM profile image

      Daphsam LM 6 years ago

      Great lens! I love Venice so much and the Carnival season is so beautiful. I have never been but love looking at the photos. Thank you!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Samo, your photographs are the very "heart and soul" of Venice Carnival - I hope a lot of people go to see your profile and the rest of your photographs, as a result. :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 6 years ago

      @justholidays: It's so visually rich, the Venetian carnival - the colours, the shapes, the embellishments, and of course the masks - I can't resist collecting these images and sharing them. So glad you enjoyed the indulgence, prosperity66 :)

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      Loved this journey into the Venetian carnival costume collection. Sadly, they're really hard to find in stores... but the pictures and videos you've chosen are outstanding.