The Carnival of Venice during the 1700s

The Carnival of Venice during the 1700s

The 18th century for Venice was a mostly peaceful century. Without war, without strife, with the lower and middle classes doing all the work, and with fewer political responsibilities: the Venetian nobles were free to indulge in "their pleasurable desires". The range of those pleasures was wide; eighteenth-century Venice was a totally permissive society in which all behavior was condoned, as long as it was performed with style.



A civilization in decay

In eighteenth-century Venice, nobles no longer wore the robes of office, while the women wore eccentric gowns adorned with black lace: "there is enough jest and luxury that one cannot imagine: religion is going down the drain", lamented the poet Angelo Labia, a priest and member of a patrician family, in a diary from this period.

The Venice of that time was indeed a very strange place; its particular kind of decadence had no contemporary equivalent, and it is highly unlikely that anything remotely similar will ever occur again. By commonly accepted standards, 18th-century Venice was a society gone mad.

Venice, between parties and entertainment

Venice used to be called "the city of masks." Carnival lasted for six months and people wore masks all the time. The gambling that took place day and night was described by the Grand Council as "solemn, continuous, universal, violent".

Nuns in pearls and low-cut gowns competed among themselves for the honor of mistressing a visiting papal nuncio. Ladies carried daggers and pistols for the handling of their "love affairs"- which they preferred to be quick and without deep emotional involvement - and it was considered a disgrace for a married woman not to have a Cicisbeo, a combined lover and gentleman-in-waiting.

In 1750, the city's rich were very, very rich - and its poor very, very poor. Some patrician families had fortunes that amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, lived in palaces of fifty rooms with as many servants, owned up to twelve gondolas, and maintained equally magnificent premises and residences on the mainland.

The Venetians seemed to have never suffered a defeat in their entire history, as if their empire was not only intact but was destined to last forever. Most Venetian nobles acted as if Venice still ruled the entire Mediterranean.



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