Last chance to catch your carri di Carnevale: 9 February 2016 serves as “Martedì Grasso,” otherwise known as “Mardi Gras,” “Fat Tuesday,” or, from an ecclesiastical perspective, “Shrove Tuesday,” the last day before “Ash Wednesday” and the beginning of Lent.
Venetian Carnevale is one of the oldest and most renowned celebrations of the season in the world. Becoming popular during the days of the Renaissance, Carnival in Venice evolved into an extended celebration, with the most elaborate and raucous festivities reserved for the span of “Maundy Thursday,” or “Giovedì Grasso” (the week prior) to the festival’s conclusion. Stemming from these amusements was the development of the Venetian mask-making tradition, which developed over time into one of the city’s most beloved art forms (and is still cherished today!).
The popularity of Carnival particularly in the 18th century (spurred on in part by the large number of Grand Tourists visiting the region), encouraged artists to source the celebrations for artistic inspiration. Figures such as Canaletto, for example, captured sweeping cityscapes filled with revelry, while Pietro Longhi stocked many of his genre scenes with masked figures, some of which directly referenced Carnival traditions and other whose connections to the holiday were more obscure (and perhaps an artistic ploy to attract Grand Tourists looking for a souvenir composition).
Gabriele Bella, The Festival of Giovedi Grasso in the Piazetta of San Marco, second half 18th century. century. Galleria Quirini-Stampalia, Venice.
Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto), The “Giovedì Grasso” Festival before the Ducal Palace in Venice, 1765-1766. Pen, ink, and gouache on paper. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Pietro Longhi, A Fortune Teller of Venice, 1756. Oil on canvas. National Gallery, London.
Pietro Longhi, Il Ridotto, 1740s. Oil on canvas. Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.
Carnival revelers along the Grand Canal, Venice (photo courtesy of cnn.com)