The History of Carnival in Venice (Carnevale di Venezia)
The world famous Carnival in Venice, Italy (Carnevale di Venezia) is an annual festival documented by Venetians as early as 1094 and said to have officially become a tradition in 1162. Carnival was held annually for centuries until it was outlawed in 1797 and banned for nearly 200 years until its revival in 1979.
In 2023 the festival was held for 18 days from Saturday, February 4 thru *Shrove Tuesday, February 21st the day before the forty days of Lent began - Ash Wednesday. *The word 'shrove' comes from the old Roman Catholic practice of being 'shriven' – meaning to confess one's sins.
Future Carnival Venice Dates: (Carnival begins two weeks before Ash Wednesday)
2024 February 3 - February 13
2025 February 22 - March 4
2026 February 7 - February 17
The Opening Ceremony at Carnival in Venice (Carnevale di Venezia)
Carnival begins with a festive opening ceremony including the Flight of the Angel (il Volo dell'Angelo) who scatters confetti over the crowds of people in St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) as she descends 300' from San Marcos bell tower (Campanile di San Marco) seen here, followed by an elaborate boat parade on the Grand Canal.
Traditional Venetian Masks and the Artists (Mascareri) that make them
For two celebratory weeks residents and visitors wearing elaborate masks and costumes fill every alleyway (campielli) and square (piazza) in Venice. What is the point of the masks? Poet Oscar Wilde said it best "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth". An estimated 3 million people attend Carnival in Venice every year, that's a whole lot of truth telling.
The streets of Venice are lined with shops selling Venetian masks. However, there are only a handful of mascareri ateliers left in Venice, artists who spend their days expertly sculpting traditional paper-mâché (cartapesta) Venetian masks for festivals, theater and cinema worldwide. A few of the most renowned Venetian mascareri are featured below.
Ca'Macana is one of the most celebrated traditional mask making workshops, with two locations in the historic city center of Venice. The original shop at Calle delle Botteghe since 1986 and another at at San Barnaba, between the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the heart of Università Ca’ Foscari. There is a great little video with the master Mascarer Mario Belloni here and another with his son Davide Belloni here.
Kartaruga Mascheraio is owned and operated by the father / daughter mascareri Franco and Francesca Cecamore. They are celebrated for having hand-made masks featured in Cirque du Soleil, a Louis Vuitton commercial featuring David Bowie, and the films Casanova directed by Michael Hoffman starring Cameron Diaz, Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci and Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's final film starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
In researching who actually made the mask Tom Cruise wore in Kubrick's movie Eyes Wide Shut I came across this interesting micro-documentary, by Filippo Biagianti + Massimiliano Studer it is worthy of your time if you would like to know more watch here. Keep in mind there were many masks worn in the film made by various artists but THE mask worn by Tom Cruise was in fact made by Kartaruga according to the micro-documentary above. But I dare you to find a single mascarer in Venice who doesn't claim to have made masks for Eyes Wide Shut, it's kind of crazy!
La Bottega dei Mascareri owned and operated by master mascareri brothers Sergio (shown below) and Massimo Boldrin is located at the foot of the Rialto bridge in Venice since 1984. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Sergio Boldrin, he's kind hearted, hard working and so incredibly talented!
Tragicomica - Opened in 1978 by mascarer Gualtiero Dall’Osto making it the oldest mask making workshop in Venice.
Interestingly Venice Art Mask founded by Albanian mascarer Edmond Angoni produces a large percentage of the world market supply of "Venetian" masks, est. 30,000 per year and they made in Shkodra, Albania NOT Italy. They do however have several retail shops in Venice.
Costume rentals are available at the following Venice Ateliers
Atelier Flavia - Via Volturno, 8, 30173 Venezia VE T. +39 041 5287429
Atelier La Bauta - Campo S. Toma' 2867 Venezia VE T. +39 041 740095
Atelier Marega - Calle Larga Prima, 2940/B Venezia VE T. +39 041 717966
Atelier Pietro Longhi - Riva Ca' di Dio, 2183, 30122 Venezia VE T. +39 041 714478
Atelier Sautter - San Marco, 1286 Frezzaria 30124 Venezia VE T. +39 041 523 2662
Atelier Tiepolo - Calle Loredan, 2593, 30121 Venezia VE T. 334 397 4233
Casa Del Sol - Fondamenta de l'Osmarin, 4964, 30122 Venezia VE T. 39 041 5285549
Marenga Renzo Atelier - Fondamenta de l'Osmarin, 4976/A, 30122 Venezia VE +39 041 847 5530
Nicolao Atelier - Calle Loredan, 2590 30121 Venezia VE T. +39 041 520 7051
Sogno Veneziano Atelier - 6423/a 30121 VE T. +39 041 241 3252
The Ball of the Doge (Il Ballo del Doge)
I've been a luxury event designer in New York for two decades so when I tell you The Ball of the Doge is extraordinary believe me, this Gala should be named the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The most exclusive event of Carnival is The Ball of the Doge (Il Ballo del Doge) since 1992 it is an elaborate gala where full period costumes designed by Atelier Antonia Sautter are mandatory, you must provide photos and request written permission to wear a costume created by any other designer. To call il Ballo del Doge a costume party would be a drastic understatement. It is a grand soiree designed to entice all of your senses with spectacular entertainment provided by over 100 international performers, lavish food, music, and decor, with every detail orchestrated to perfection by event designer Antonia Sautter and her team. The ball is held at Scuola Grande Della Misericordia di Venezia seen here. Admission to The Ball of the Doge 2024 ranges from 800 € to 5000 € depending on the experience you choose, tickets for Carnival 2024 can be purchased here.
Ballo Tiepolo Grand Ball
If the above mentioned ball gives you sticker shock or if you prefer a more traditional Venetian ball experience consider attending Ballo Tiepolo. Held annually since 1998 in the gothic Pisani Moretta Palace located on the Grand Canal between the Rialto bridge and Ca'Foscari. The event is hosted by CCI - Club Culturale Italiano. Prepare to be transported in time as Ballo Tiepolo is reminiscent of XVIII century balls, featuring classical music + traditional Venetian entertainment. Period costumes are of course required, while their costume policy is not as strict as the above mentioned ball it is a compliment to attending wearing costumes designed by Atelier Tiepolo. Admission range from 570 € with side hall seating and 840 € for main hall seating, tickets can be purchased here.
Palazzo Pisani Moretta, Venice Italy