The Carnival of Venice, which takes place just before Lent and ends on that holy day, is all about the decorative masks native to the city itself. Though nobody is sure exactly how this carnival began, it is said to date all the way back to 1162, but it became extremely famous during the 18th century for its excess and was even outlawed from 1797 until 1979, thanks to the conservative King of Austria (who even outlawed masks entirely). Now that masks are no longer outlawed, each gargantuan carnival holds a competition for la maschera più bella, or ‘the most beautiful mask.’
Another typical mask of the Venice Carnival is the Gnaga, used by men to dress up as women. The costume consists of every day female clothing and a mask with cat-like appearance; the mask wearer often carried a basket containing a kitten and posed as a commoner woman, emitting shrill sounds and meows. (Italy Magazine - Venice Carnival’s Most Typical Masks and Costumes)
A little piece of history sheds some light.
From Veneto Insider -
The Venice Carnival origins are to be found in two ancient traditions: the Latin Saturnalia and the Greek Dionysian cults - major religious festivals involving the use of masks and symbolic representations. The Venice Carnival history and meanings take their cue from these traditions, recasting them for their own purposes: in the Saturnalia of ancient Rome the social order was overturned and slaves and free citizens poured into the city to celebrate with music and wild dancing; in the Greek Dionysia processions and plays were intended to unite the human being with nature in a superior harmony, free of social conventions established by man.
Have you ever attended? What is your take?