Venetian carnival goes back to the Roman Saturnalia and the Greek Dionisic cults, when once a year there were no restraints and just transgression was permitted.
In 1094 the Venetian Republic established the rules that had to be followed during this festival, but only in 1296 carnival became a public holiday.
It first took place in Campo Santo Stefano as it was celebrated on December 26th, the day of Saint Stephen and ended the day before Lent. It started again during the Ascension and then at the opening of the theaters in October.
A Carnival costume
Masks have always been an important feature of the Venetian carnival. It was not possible to recognize who was hiding behind them. Therefore, they served as a disguise and consequently through the numerous disguises a social leveling was reached.
The bauta was a costume made of various pieces, including a completely white mask called larva, that allowed their wearers to hide their identity.
However, it allowed them to eat and drink, and it was especially used by those who entered the casinos to gamble.
The moretta was a purely female mask, worn especially during parties and dances in the palaces. It was an oval mask that could not be tied with ribbons behind the woman’s nape, nor held in her hands with a stick. Pietro Longhi, a famous Venetian painter of the 1700s; represented it in his paintings. It seems that the mask was glued to the women’s face, but it wasn't like that. The mask hid a button on the inside that the lady held in her mouth so that in this way it was difficult for her to speak.
In the 1700s carnival turns out to be one of the most famous celebrations even among Europeans visiting Venice. There are numerous paintings that testify parties that were organized in the palaces, masquerades and games in the casinos and in the taverns.