Monday, March 03, 2014

Carnevale and Lent

Ambrogio Brambilla (1575 - 1595 fl)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Ambrogio Brambilla (1575 - 1595 fl)
Quaresima (Lent)
c 1583
250 mm  x  196 mm
The British Museum, London

As well as his topographical prints which are now of great historical value, Ambrogio Brambilla also produced many popular illustrations

The above are two which derive from the Italian Commedia Dell'Arte 

They are in the style of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526 ,1527 – July 11, 1593) a fellow Milanese renowned nowadays for his portraits of human heads made up of vegetables, plants, fruits, sea creatures and tree roots

Here the two allegorical portraits show the conflicting and contrasting characters of Carnival  which preceded the more sombre and solemn Quaresima (Lent)

Carnival was the period of the year beginning on roughly the Feast of St Stephen (or 17th January) until Ash Wednesday

Later it was reduced to three days and then finally one - Mardi gras

In the Ambrosian Rite around Milan it lasted until the first Sunday of Lent (an additional four days)

Carnival was a time to forget hardship and fear and the rule bound nature of ordinary life. 

It is of course followed by Lent, not simply a liturgical time but of constant fasting and penitence

In the Commedia, Lent kills off Carnival

After plague hit Milan, St Charles Borromeo banned every form of games, shows, carnival masks and profane spectacle as they were contributory causes of the punishment sent by God

But Venice, Florence and Rome kept up the old traditions 

In and around Milan there was a reaction to the Borromean strictures.

Brambilla founded the Accademia dei Facchini della Val di Blenio in Lombardy in 1560

Its members included artists of the late High Mannerism,  musicians, poets and actors who were rather subversive of the very strict Counter Reformation ethos which prevailed in Lombardy and Northern Italy

And what of circus and carnival today ?

In 2004 there was the VII  International Congress for the Pastoral Care of Circus and Travelling Show People in Rome sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People

In its Final Document the Congress painted a rather bleak picture and it said: 

"We live in a world that is rapidly changing. Our way of thinking, our social and religious life and politics are influenced especially by economic factors, new means of education that are more and more globalized, technology and wellbeing for many in the midst of an ocean of world-wide poverty. 
- Their itinerant life in itself is sufficient to make society look on circus and carnival people as being “different”, somewhat marginal. Their work is not generally recognized as a form of culture nor is it appreciated as their means of earning their livelihood. The consequence is that circus and carnival people meet with numerous difficulties not only because of their hard lives, being always on the move, but also because of the obstacles various public authorities put in their path. 
- Their difference in educational standards, their more natural rhythm of life, their social and family structures, their ethnic multiplicity and, at bottom, their great degree of forbearance make it hard for circus and carnival people to understand certain elements of life in today’s society (bureaucracy, social welfare, politics, trade unions, etc.). 
- In this context the education of their children and their progress in schooling is one of the greatest difficulties for these families in a pluralistic society with its growing means of instruction and interchange. In some countries, however, circus people have solved the problem of schooling rather well. They can generally rely on teachers belonging to the public or private education system to give lessons as they move from place to place, which enables their children to complete their schooling. 
- Among the various experiences related, particular interest was attached to a project for the cultural training of teachers and helpers to enable the children and young persons of travelling shows to participate in normal compulsory schooling. The project is being worked out with the collaboration of local authorities, Church bodies and the travelling show people themselves. 
- But urban development is more and more pushing to the periphery the structures that sustain travelling shows, forcing them use unsuitable places, at times downright rubbish dumps. Moreover reciprocal prejudice on both sides intensifies their marginalisation.  
- Then again the serious economic difficulties generally confronting contemporary society are having negative repercussions on the work of circuses and carnivals which, aimed as it is at amusement, is not considered a prime necessity. 
- Again whereas the parish helps the sedentary Christian population to feel that it belongs to a community where it can celebrate and deepen its faith, it is practically impossible for carnival people and even more so for circus people to feel that they belong to a local parish or traditional Church community. 
- Nevertheless such values as the family, the fundamentals of life, sobriety, a serious attitude to work and a certain basic popular religiosity have long remained intact, though they are now being weakened. At all events the world of these itinerant people has its own contribution to make to the Church and society, namely a sense of Providence and solidarity. 
- Finally, since ecumenism is today part of the Church’s being, the circus and carnival have justly been described as “a front-line laboratory for Christian progress in universal fraternity, in ecumenism and in meeting other religions”."
Nowadays it would appear that in many places Carnival has been killed off for good, is totally extinct

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