Venezia header: Piazza San Marco - Riva degli Schiavoni


Not too many artists dedicated their sharp eye and creativity to describe and document what Carnival was in their times and since its beginnings.

Although Carnival in Venice started in 1162, I have found no images made in those "ancient" times.
My guesses:

  • No Gutenberg press: mechanical print on paper started in 1439, before that date it was all was unique and handmade.
  • The Roman Church: it practically had the monopoly of image production at the time, and Carnival wasn't surely one of its favorite topics.
  • Renaissance painters were mostly concentrated in Florence and Rome, Venice was a different reality.

The artists I have found left a strong sign, though, sending an idea of what Carnival represented in those times to whom may be interested to "know a little more".

I chose of course what I found available on the web, or I had in my books, but there isn't much, really. And the documentation I show here is probably the best available, made from XV to XVIII century, basically, when Carnival was at its strongest.

I also used my Photoshop skills in "making the images a little better" but not so much as to falsify them, so I could pass around a good idea of how Carnival in Venice was documented in those ancient times.

The period I have considered is from the XII century when it started, up to the XVIII and XIX century where it was fading out already, and then interrupted by Austrian Laws.

Most of the images (prints, paintings) come from Italian artists, because they were close to the source, and could feel the vibrancy of the Venice Carnival in first person.

There is more material available, of course, but not really that much, and it didn't excite me enough to pursue its quest.

Hope this will represent a good starting point for your personal research.

Vittorio Zonca: "Book Printing press"
engraving (1607)
from "Novo Teatro di Machine et Edificii"


1550-1620 - Printer in Venezia and Padova
main activity years: 1595-1620

Very little is known about the Venetian engraver Giacomo Franco.

Illegitimate son of painter Giovanni-Battista Franco, he worked as a painter, engraver, woodcutter, and dealer in graphics and books.

He took over his father's workshop "S.Fosca" in 1595 and in 1610 published the book "Habiti d'huomeni et donne venetiane con la processione della serma. Signoria et altri particolari cioè trionfi, feste et cerimonie publiche della nobilissima cittá di Venetia".

The book is a mix of depictions of Venetian costumes, processions, and celebrations, all traditional and institutional situations, giving a good image of how things were going on in Venice at the time.

I have found, presented as printed/created by Giacomo Franco, some of the imagery that is attributed to his colleagues Pietro & Francesco Bertelli, showing that they probably collaborated on certain projects.
Business is business, after all.


?1571-1621 - Printer in Venezia and Padova
main activity years: 1589-1620

Carnival images are just a tiny example of his work, but he was the one tat created the imagery that was later used and re-used.

He basically worked printing images of the technology of the time.

Pietro Bertelli then came out in 1589-1592 with two volumes which were describing clothes and habits of Venice and others in his time (and a little before) "Diversarum Nationum Habitus (Clothing of Different Countries)", in which we can find all the Carnival imagery of the ancient times. Didn't find anything else, sorry.

Pietro was also the publisher of an early Agostino Carracci engraving, and published in 1589 a series of costume prints by Giacomo Franco with the title of "Habiti d'uomini et donne venetianae" and a series of maps of Italy entitled "Theatrum urbium italiacarum" in 1599.


Printer in Venezia and Padova
main activity years: 1600-1650

Most of the work of Pietro Bertelli about Carnival we appreciate thanks to his son Francesco, who operated in Padova about 40 Km from Venice. With the book "Il carnevale italiano mascherato ..." he gives us quite a bit of nice imagery presenting Carnival in Venice, and represents his most important book from which I took most of the Bertelli images you will find on this website.

Regarding Carnival, he proposed the same imagery his father had created, sometimes adding a short commentary, or little changes in the images themselves.


1700-1778 - Printer and painter in Venezia

Born in Nervesa, a little town close to Venice, Zompini moved to the big city pretty young to profit for his natural inclination for the arts.

Very gifted engraver and excellent painter, and doing frescoes too, he was rather successful with his job, and made good money, but was frequently pennyless, as he had a quite large family to support (11 children!).

Later in life a patron and friend gave him a regular job for some time.

"Le Arti che vanno per via nella citta di Venezia", Zompini's most known work, was published for the first time in 1753, and is his most notable work, done with the financial support of this patron and friend, Anton Maria Zanetti.

It is composed of a collection of 95 images (of which only 60 were printed) describing any kind of jobs as were done in Venice at the time, and commerce, all possible activities.

This editorial venture partly achieved its results as it was expected, maybe there wasn't enough diffusion of the book to support the costs, and so the printing of the book had to be reduced.

There are several reprintings of this same book, including one with English translations, printed in 1797.

Gaetano Zompini died blind and in poverty in Venice on May 20, 1778, very likely of tiphoid fever.


1700(2)-1785 - Painter in Venezia

First child of a silversmith, Pietro Longhi started his career as a painter with the usual religious themes, and this was basically the "bread 'n butter" of most painters at the time.

But he also went on to describe some way of life in Venice, and this included the Carnival and the Ridotto, the local Casino, images for which he is most widely known nowadays.

His clients were for sure the elite of the time, so he adapted his topics to please the buyers ... he also had eleven children to feed!

I find his Carnival paintings based on the same images, same stereotypes, same patterns extensively repeated, sort of a monochromatic world.

And this very likely worked to make his customers happy, who knows.

But there are a couple of very positive things I find about his art, besides the fact he certainly was a good painter, had an "excellent hand":

  • Longhi proposes the masked/Carnival people as being part of everyday life in Venice at the time (as it likely was)
  • Longhi also shows the other part of the Venice population, the "not so rich", and the poor one - how they present themselves in everyday situations - not with pity or disdain, but with a curious eye.

GIOVANNI GREVEMBROCH (Jan van Grevenbroeck)

1731-1807 - Artist and painter in Venice

There isn't much documentation about Giovanni Grevembroch, but we know he was probably born in Venice, in a family of Flemish origins (Van Grevembroch), all of them being painters or draftsmen, although of modest results and recognition.

Pietro Gardenigo, a noble Venetian, established himsel as Grevembroch patron, when he was just a 23 year old artist, and gave him hospitality (and a salary, I imagine) for quite a bit of time.

Gardenigo himself was sort of an historian, keeping a diary all along his life of what he was seeing happening in Venice, and put together 38 volumes (Notorii) plus 26 volumes (Commemoriali) of relevants events in Venice to which he had attended in person.

This help/collaboration allowed Grevembroch to take the time to prepare what is known to be his main accomplishment, to which he dedicated 20 years of his watercolor painting.

In the four volumes that came out there is a collection of watercolors and commentaries about how the people in Venice dressed, for work and leisure, and not only the noble classes, but just about everybody.

A total of 648 watercolors, with commentary for each image, collected in the four books of "Gli abiti de veneziani di quasi ogni età con diligenza raccolti e dipinti nel secolo XVIII"

Giovanni Grevembroch's work can be found at the "Biblioteca Civici Musei Veneziani - Museo Correr" in Venice.

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