In a few days the climax of the Venetian Carnival will be reached. Guests from all over the world will wear their shimmering costumes, hide their face behind a mask and attend a private masquerade ball in a palazzo…

Spectacular parties in Venice have quite a long tradition

It was the beginning of May in 1784 when Alvise and Francesco Pisani welcomed Gustav the 3rd, King of Sweden, to their wonderful ball in Palazzo Pisani. Eight servants holding torches accompanied the monarch as he walked through the halls of the palace to be finally led to a dinner with over 800 guests. The rooms were covered with draperies in green velvet with golden fringes and ribbons while gold cutlery and plate would lie on the table.

Three days later, in the casino on the Giudecca island one more party was held. The water of the canals reflected the light of the torches, songs and music accompanied the guests; the plants in the garden were decorated with crystal glass fruits within which the light of candles was flickering. Afar in the lagoon a theatrical machine shaped as a triumphal arch with mirrors and burning torches played with reflections. Even a rudimentary system of air conditioning would make sure some fresh air would entertain the guests.

The budget? The chronicles say the cost was one tenth of the whole Croatian total income!

party, Venice

A banquet in Venice in the 18th Century by Pietro Longhi (attr.)

The Bal Oriental

Don Carlos de Beistegui y de Yturbe arranged a colossal masquerade ball on the 3rd of September in 1951 in Palazzo Labia. The multimillionaire gentleman, famous for his art collection and passion for architecture and design, called it Le Bal Oriental. It would be called the Party of the Century. The world jet set participated or was invited: Aga Khan III, Orson Welles, Salvador Dalì and Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin among the others. Don Carlos’ vest was scarlet and he wore a wig with long curly hair with platform shoes towering as a King. In the rooms where Giambattista Tiepolo had frescoed the Ballroom with the stories of Anthony and Cleopatra guests dressed as those same Tiepolo’s creatures wandered in the rooms as if the artistic dreams of 18th Century had become alive.

party, masks, carlos de beistegui

Don Carlos Beistegui with his costume, 1951

masks, Venice, ball

At le Bal Oriental, Daisy Fellowes as La Reine d’Afrique

And finally:

masks, ball, Venice, Palazzo Labia, Beistegui

Daisy Fellowes, Paris Editor for American Harper’s Bazaar, dressed as The Queen of Africa in a Christian Dior design. Photograph by Robert Doisneau

The “Ballo del Doge” at Carnival

Nowadays, the most famous and most celebrated parties are the ones arranged in Palazzo Pisani Moretta, facing the Grand Canal. This gothic palace, still a private residence, with its 24-meter long “portego” (passage hall) that leads from the water entrance through the monumental staircase to the rooms upstairs with their glass chandeliers and candles, mirrors and frescoes, is the setting of Antonia Sautter’s wonderful events.

When I met Ms Antonia Sautter in December, she was very generous in narrating her story. The Ball of the Doge is her invention. With the help of her team of 30 people she takes care of all details. Sketching the costumes and following the creations up to the moment when magic becomes real. The palace itself must be transformed in her hands so that her clients can share her dreams. And this is what strikes when you talk to her, the very pragmatical approach of a business woman on one side. And on the other side the dreaming attitude of a little girl, apprentice magician of her mum who loved making costumes as a hobby and died when Antonia was only 18 years old. Surrounded by her over one thousand costumes, Antonia offers you the possibility to go beyond your limits while she searches not to cut that bond with her mother.

Yes, we all dream

We can all live in magical, unreal worlds. The aura of a toy. You wear a costume and you can cross the threshold: no escape, but a way to enhance reality and hopefully a chance to liberate our most intimate desire. As if Venice, its Carnival and its open air theatre were the key to access a different world.

mask, ball, doge, Venice, Sautter

The allegory of Venice, the Bride, the Courtesan, the Goddess of Water in her 4,5-meter long trail, Ballo del Doge Carnival 2015, Antonia Sautter

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy

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