Murder, masks and Venice: Carnevale today, Lent tomorrow

the book:

Death in a Serene City by Edward Sklepowich

published 1990   Part 4 chapter 12

[American ex-pat Urbino is investigating a murder in Venice just before the start of carnevale]
"...The shop was dark even at the brightest time of the day. Cavatorta had wisely taken advantage of this drawback by positioning a battery of lamps to illuminate the masks on the walls and shelves. It was an eerie effect, with masks of various colours, shapes, sizes, materials and designs glowing and staring out with hollow eyes and casting bizarre shadows. There were silvery crescent moons and glowing suns with rays streaming from around their edges; court jesters; large lion faces with thick golden manes; masks of the plague doctor with his cone-shaped nose and of Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Pantalone, Brighella, and other commedia dell’arte figures; three-quarter volti designed to allow their wearers to eat and drink without removing them, and delicate oval morette worn by women or by men disguised as women during the bacchanal of carnevale. There was a shelf of dainty porcelain masks that brought a touch of the Orient to the shop and a whole wall of primitive masks in the African style interspersed with ones on ancient Roman models. Many masks were adorned with feathers, lace, sequins, false jewels, and artificial hair, some of them expressing a whimsy that Urbino was surprised to find playful and pleasantly childlike…"


Today is the last day before Lent begins, which means the end of carnevale in those Catholic cities famous for celebrating it. The Venice carnevale features in literature surprisingly little. (It is well to beware having seen it in a film adaptation – film-makers can’t resist it, but seem unaware, or uncaring, that it happens at a specific time of year, which would be February or at best early March, so may not fit in to the rest of the plot.) But, as it turns out, there’s good reason for its absence in books: the current incarnation of carnevale is a very recent invention, started up in 1979. It had been banned by Mussolini in the 1930s, but by all accounts had not been very important for a long time before then.

There are many detective stories by English-speaking authors set in Italy and more particularly Venice: it has an attraction for British and American writers. Edward Sklepowich is one of the less well-known ones, but well worth investigating.

This beautiful photograph is from Perry Photography: you can see more of her pictures at Flickr.


  1. I've never heard of the writer - will check him out. And love the photo!

  2. Nice blog and information about venetian feather masks. Masquerade Costumes is #1 online store for feather Venetian masks and masquerade feathered masks.


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