Carnival, Carnaval, Carnevale

This is a bit of a tough time of year. The festivities of the harvest and winter holidays have come to an end. The new year has come and gone. For many, the weather is depressing, grey, wet, and cold, but we’re still several months off from the rebirth of spring.

This malaise is nothing new. Our ancestors also felt floppy this time of year. And what did people do in the past when feeling “meh?” PARTY! It’s carnival time!

The Carnival, Venice by Francois Flameng, late 19th or early 20th century

As with many celebrations aligned with the seasons, the festival is ancient and widespread. There are celebrations all over the world, from Europe to Africa, South America to Asia. The word “carnival” itself may come from the Latin carne levare, which means “remove meat,” specifically referencing the Christian period of Lent, a period of fasting. Carnival is the last chance for feasts and festivities. However, pre-Christian peoples celebrated the return of daylight and the coming end of winter. In other parts of the world, and at other times, it has been called Anthesteria, Saturnalia, Chūnjié, Imbolc, to name just a few.

One of the most famous carnivals in the world is the Venetian Carnival in Venice, Italy. Glitz, glamour, a rainbow of color, music, dancing, parties, parades, and traditions abound. For us historical fashion lovers, carnival festivities offer ample opportunity to dress up, and the premiere place for such frivolity is Venice.

Carnival in Venice, by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1750

Venetian Carnival has been celebrated on and off since the mid-12th century. It is famous for its several distinct masks and characters, and has been depicted in art and literature for hundreds of years. Venetian carnival seems to trend very Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo in historical costume. This may be because Carnival was completely outlawed in 1797, masks included, and only tentatively reappeared in the Victorian era in a limited way.

Venetian Carnival is a painting by Vincent Stiepevich, 1879
Venetian “Pierrot” masks
Here you can see traditional Moretta and Bauta masks. The Ridotto, by Pietro Longhi , 1757

It wasn’t until 1979 that the Italian government redeveloped and promoted Venetian Carnival as a symbol – and attraction – of the cultural history of Venice. We have this quite recent resurgence to thank for the famous, opulently-attired fantasies in full-face “volto” masks.

A modern Venetian Carnival fantasy costume with the iconic full-face white “volto” mask

If you’re preparing costumes for a carnival celebration, be it in Venice or elsewhere, we have some perfect period-correct and charmingly colorful shoes for you. We’ve even put together a Carnival collection. Check it out!

Just a few gorgeous ideas for Carnival shoes!

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