Crawford House Publishing
Venice Carnevale 

This magnificent volume chronicles and beautifully illustrates, with the photographs of Charles and Josette Lenars, the unrivalled spectacle that is the Venice Carnevale (Carnevale di Venezia).

Carnevale calls on pagan antiquity for its roots, some in the winter fertility festivals, others derived from Egypt and the East, lasting a week and concluding with the sacrifice of a beribboned ox. The dionysian revels of Greece, held in winter and spring, with their fancy-dress parades and licentious orgies, largely inspired the rise of the carnevale, particularly in Florence, during the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent (15th century). The Roman saturnalia, marking the beginning of the lunar year, gave rise to the taste for reversing hierarchical and sexual mores. Therein lies the rationale for the masks, which help to preserve anonymity and to allow the wearer to avoid the shame of transgressing the established religious and political codes, of shattering the social hierarchy and sexual mores.

The relationship of Carnevale with the Church is paradoxical. There are in Carnevale associations with Christianity, and the excesses of the festival offset the abstinences and constraints of Lent, which follows it. Yet the Church has always condemned the festival, seeing it as paganist and satanic. Ironically, the Church’s condemnation of Carnevale only furthered the development of the festival.

Carnevale also draws heavily on the theatrical traditions of commedia dell’arte, which grew out of the organised troupes of players that began to appear in Italy in the 16th century. The festival borrows many of its masks from theatrical works that featured the quite outrageous heroes, often servants, such as Harlequin, Pierrot, Columbine, Panteléone, Scaramouche and Polichinelle. Certain of the figures have their roots in medieval farce, while others evolved during the 17th century before fixing their final form in the 18th century.

And it was in the 18th century that today’s Carnevale had its golden age. In a world in which Venetian ships plied the seas between Europe, the Orient and the New World, gold and precious stones, pepper and cinnamon enriched the city. In response to the harsh regime imposed by a doge (chief magistrate) with absolute power, and supported by a feared political-police force, the Venetians reinvented derision, concealing the excesses behind grotesque or anonymous masks. Carnevale lasted six months, from October to Lent, during which each week closed with a ball, an intense event of collective relief from pent-up feelings.

Finally, Carnevale di Venezia was re-established in the 1970s to attract tourists and bring life to the city of the doges. Make-up and lace reflect nostalgia for the sophistication of yesteryear. Carnevale gives rise to various festivals that evoke the entire history of the city. It remains, too, a moment of great social release, a time apart from daily life, and for ten days it transforms Venice into a grand, colourful theatre. And it is that theatre that is so beautifully illustrated by the photography of the Lenars.


Elisabeth Dumont-Le






200 full-colour photographs


Portrait; hardcover; c. 250 pages


245 x 214 mm



© Copyright 2019 Crawford House Publishing Australia