The Italian Almanac

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Venice masks

Italian News - February 22

An exhibition of costumes from Bernardo Bertolucci's Oscar-winning movie The Last Emperor has kicked off a rich programme of events giving an oriental flavour to this year's Venice Carnevale. The theme of the 2006 Carnevale, which runs until February 28, is 'Il Drago e il Leone' - the Chinese 'dragon' and the 'lion', the symbol of the Lagoon City's patron, Saint Mark.

The Last Emperor show at Venice's Corderie dell'Arsenale is undoubtedly one of its highlights. It features the beautiful, Academy Award-winning costumes worn by actors in Bertolucci's 1987 movie about Pu Yi, the last of China's emperors. They range from the sumptuous imperial clothes donned by the child Pu Yi - he was crowned monarch in 1908 at the age of three - to the grey uniforms he wore when working as a gardener under the Communist regime.

Naturally, Carnevale is also staging the traditional series of costume pageants, balls and performances that revive the spirit of the Venetian Republic. The event, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Lagoon City every year, takes place in the week before Lent and is believed to date back to the 12th century.

Its most distinctive feature is the famous Venetian white mask - worn with a black cloak and a tricorn hat - which can be bought almost everywhere in the city during the festival. Masks are linked to Carnevale because, during the era of the Republic, it was one of the few periods of the year that the authorities allowed citizens to wear them. Venetians liked them because they enabled people of different social classes to mingle and get up to mischief together without being recognized.