Sunday, 18 March 2018

Venice Carnival: Peacocks, Poppy-Shows and Popinjays!

My visit to Venice coincided quite by chance with the second week of the annual Carnevale - an orgy of exhibitionism which sees people from as far afield as America and Japan descend on Venice, donning period costume to pose and preen at key points around the city. The carnival has a long history and is thought to have been established in 1162. It reached the heights of its popularity (and debauchery), in the eighteenth century, and possibly because of these excesses was outlawed in 1797, having to go underground before re-emerging for short periods in the nineteenth century. I should have known there was something rum afoot when having dropped off my luggage at the hotel and headed out, I rounded a corner and was startled to stumble upon the motley crew below.

It was the begining of a trend. Further forays deeper into the heart of the city revealed legions of fops and poseurs all eager to see and be seen, caught in the thrall of the adoration and attention of the camera lens. Location was everything. The dandy below struck a pose in a prime position just below the Bridge of Sighs refusing to move until he'd been seen and photographed by as many people as possible. To his credit his outfit did look very good though, Beau Brummel himself would have been extremely proud.

Some poseurs chose to remain completely anonymous and seemed a little sinister, adopting the traditional white bauta mask, tricorn hat, and tabarro cape. They brought to life familiar figures that inhabit the paintings of Venetian artist Pietro Longhi (1701/2-1785), such as those in The Rhinoceros, (c.1751) at the National Gallery.

The attention to accurate period details was important for some. The wigs and fabrics were very convincing. I couldn't help but covet that beautifully embroidered red velvet frock coat below.

This "artist" was very grand sweeping through the piazza with his palette.

Another very covetable embroidered red/gold velvet ensemble.

A selection of clowns and pierrots.

I was fascinated by this woman strolling about the piazza with a galleon atop her head riding the crests of a blue rinsed wig fashioned into waves. Absolutely gorgeous!

A moment of respite from the posing, and a rare glimpse behind the mask.

A selection of the more outré outfits that weren't so much concerned with historical accuracy than causing a sensation. I would have loved to see Leigh Bowery in action here showing them how its really done.

This chicken was extremely funky, and the crocodile of child Medusa's were adorable.

Somebody needs to have a word with this dog. A mere afro wig does not a true dandy make! He needs to up his fop-game next year.

The nights were magical. All around the centre huddled in Venice's narrow, Medieval alleys and side streets were groups of masked poseurs in full period dress. It was a little disconcerting at times as from a distance they were like actual ghosts from the past. The real action was of course, in the Piazza San Marco. Florian café was the hub, and the place to see, and be seen. The in-crowd sat in the windows preening, sporting their finest period garments. Whilst us eager onlookers gazed avidly through the looking glass, getting a glimpse into their retro world. The look was like a revival of the Blitz Kids and New Romantic movement of the 1980s all over again, or the Adam Ant - Prince Charming era video. The exclusivity and clothing also had something of the air of the salons of revolutionary era France. They appeared to be a really self-indulgent clique of popinjays, but it was really fascinating to have had a glimpse into their affected, foppish, world.

The very modern mobile phone however, shattered the illusion somewhat.

The very next day I was wandering the streets and my ears were assaulted by a series of whoops and loud drumming. The police appeared and ushered us aside, clearing a path. After a short interval these exotic stilt walkers dramatically appeared whirling, whooping and prancing to the beat of the drums, heralding the appearance of a queen or princess of some sort. I really felt for them, it must have been quite precarious negotiating the bridges and steps of Venice, but they executed it with a sense of fun and practiced aplomb.

The queen was suitably regal and poised following the drama and movement of the preceding stiltwalkers. She was accompanied by two intriguing footmen bearing a mysterious (treasure?) box, and a host of ladies in waiting. The costumes again were great. I have no idea what the whole procession was about but it was very entertaining, and I felt fortunate to have come across and witnessed it.

And then, as soon as they appeared they were gone, in a whirlwind of noisy hollering and rhythmic drums trailing a crowd of followers in their wake.

Meanwhile back in the Piazza San Marco I spied this amazing tribute to Picasso's Guernica shuffling through the throng. It was a great costume which really worked in bringing the artwork to life in 3-D. Apparently the lady (of a certain age), hidden within the costume appears every year without fail at the Carnevale in a different art-inspired costume. She makes them all herself and her efforts need to be applauded.

I now come to my personal selection of the top three costumes of Carnevale. There were many that I missed of course, but of the ones I personally saw these were the ones I deemed most stunning.

I spied this lady on the Rialto Bridge, and thought that hers was definately the best of the womens costumes that I saw during my time in Venice. Look at the width of that mantua skirt, and her hair was even bigger than the lady with the galleon on her head. She was suitably regal and haughty, shooing away onlookers who got too close (let them eat cake!), despite being mobbed by admirers and photographers alike.

This very coordinated couple below looked absolutely fantastic, and were wearers of my second favourite costumes at Carnevale. They were like a Gilbert and George-style 'living sculpture' art installation, and I just wish I had taken more photographs of the details of their outfits, especially the colourful afro-style headpieces. I was reminded of the outrageous outfits of Oskar Schlemmer of the Bauhaus movement. The gentleman's red and blue beard showed a meticulous attention to detail, and the hearts they held were perhaps an acknowledgement of Valentine's Day, or their commitment to each other. Stunning!

And now for my very personal favourite, the pièce de résistance! The prize of best costume has to go to this spectacular creature below. Is he not the perfect popinjay? Have you ever seen a more more magnificent specimen? Half-human, half-flower, he was like a precious, rare specimen transported from some other-worldly exotic clime, who has deigned to both bless, and grace us with his fabulousness. 

Again it was a case of location, location, location! as he desported himself against the backdrop of the Grand Canal at the Piazza San Marco for maximum exposure before flouncing off, transporting himself opposite to the Doge's Palace in a state of high dudgeon when the photographers pressed too closely, threatening his personal space and very preciousness. 

He was well versed in the art of the pose. No peacock was ever prouder. The whole of Piazzo San Marco was his stage, and he owned it! (best Simon Cowell X-Factor voice). The extravagant floral headpiece and petals about his midriff were gorgeous enough, but how fabulous too are those shoes?! Not to mention the trailing foliage detail climbing those tights. He was fabulous personified (and he knew it!).

The resultant scrum of photographers for his own particular brand of flamboyance was well deserved and a joy to behold. Arrivederci Venice Carnevale you were an absolute  blast!