Monday, February 16, 2015

Rome: The Carnival before Lent

Jan Miel (1599 –  1663)
The Carnival in Rome 
Oil on canvas
68 cm x 50 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The representation of the Carnival of Rome consisted of holding dances, masquerades and gargantuan public parties and amusements. It was a watchword for excess as preparation for Lent

Here we see eight people loaded onto a cart pulled by oxen; some look directly at the viewer to make the viewer a participant. The three characters in the foreground to the left, apparently drunk, are dressed in the typical costume of the Swiss Guard, the personal bodyguard of the Pope.

Mounted on two mules, on the right, are two other characters from the nearby Commedia dell`Arte : the Doctor and Punchinello. 

Filippo Gagliardi (died 1659) and Filippo Lauri (1623 - 1694)
Carnival of 1656, Carousel at Palazzo Barberini in honour of Christina of Sweden
Oil on canvas
Museo di Roma, Rome. 

Rome welcomed ex Queen Christina of Sweden with pomp and circumstance that had rarely been seen before

Masquerades were a common feature of the Carnival, and they could be quite political

Jacob van Lint (1723 - 1790)
The Chinese Masquerade on the Piazza Colonna in Rome during the Giacomo Carnival 1735
Oil on canvas
970 x 1333 mm
The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust),  Waddlesdon, England

A carnival parade in 1735 along the Corso crosses the Piazza Colonna in Rome in this highly detailed painting by Jacob van Lint. 

Just to the right of centre, there is the Chinese float of the art students of the French Academy in Rome. 

A contemporary writer, Valesio, wrote in his diary of the 'beautiful carriage with 16 people dressed in Chinese clothes, with umbrellas and flags used by the Chinese' 

The Director of the Academy at the time was the French  painter Nicolas Vleughels (1668- 1737)

Among the students at the Academy at the time were: Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre; Jean-Charles Frontier; François Ladatte; Claude Francin; Laurent; Philotée François Duflos; and Jean Baptiste Boudard

The painting was commissioned twenty years after the event to commemorate the memorable display which no doubt was extremely controversial to some, agreeable to others

The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith sided with the Jesuits` policy of accommodation  in 1656, in The Chinese Rites controversy

Clement XI banned the rites in 1704. In 1742, Benedict XIV reaffirmed the ban and forbade debate.

Numerous French Jesuits were active in China during the 17th and 18th centuries

French Jesuits pressured the French king to send them to China with the aims of counterbalancing the influence of Ottoman Empire in Europe. 

In the early 18th century, Rome's ensuing challenge to the Chinese Rites led to the expulsion of Catholic missionaries from China

In 1736, an edict prohibited the teaching of Christian doctrine under penalty of death. On 25 June, 1746, a cruel persecution broke out in Fu-kien, during which the vicar Apostolic, Bishop Sanz, and four other Spanish Dominicans, Serrano, Alcobar, Royo, and Diaz were martyred. The Jesuits Attimis and Henriquez were put to death at Su-chou on 12 Sept., 1748. 

Francesco Muccinelli (active end of 18th and beginning of 19th centuries)
Corteo di maschere a piazza Colonna durante il carnevale
Parade of masks on Piazza Colonna, Rome during the Carnival
Tempera on panel
485 mm  x  660 mm
Museo del Folklore, Trastevere, Rome 

Here we see another feature of the Roman Carnival: horse racing

Horace Vernet (1789–1863)
The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses
Oil on canvas
46 x 54 cm
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

The races of riderless horses were another  highlight of Rome’s Carnival before Lent. 

Fifteen to twenty riderless horses were i the race and were originally imported from the Barbary Coast of North Africa

The race—la mossa— was held along the Via Flaminia, now the Corso, in Rome and started in the Piazza del Popolo, which Goethe called "one of the finest sights that can be seen anywhere in the world." 

The race lasted only 2 - 3 minutes

Vernet witnessed the horse race during his first trip to Rome

Another spectator was Géricault

Théodore Géricault 1791 - 1824
Riderless Horse Races
Oil on canvas, 
45 x 60 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Géricault was a passionate horseman and when in Rome at the Carnival painted five studies of this theme (of which this is one) for a large painting (The Race of Riderless Horses on the Corso) which was never realised

Other studies for the Race of the Barbarian Horses, 1817  are in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France,  The J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore

In 1874, a young man was  hit and killed by a horse in this race and the King Vittorio Emanuele II abolished the event for all time

Also in the Via del Corso were other events. One was I moccoletti

Ippolito Caffi 1809 - 1866
I moccoletti al Corso
Tempera on paper
838 x 1218 mm
Museo di Roma in Trastevere, Rome

In Rome on Shrove Tuesday, at sunset, along Via del Corso, between Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo, occurred the last and most extraordinary collective game of Carnival: the moccoletti

Everyone had a candle, (the "moccoletto") 

The important thing was to keep the flame or light on as long as possible, while at the same time trying to extinguish the moccoletto of others. 

Gradually as the number of lit candles became increasingly more numerous the long way became a sea of flashing bright lights 

It started in  1773 and represented not only the highlight of Carnival before Lent but also an event of great symbolism and ritual

In the early 1840s Charles Dickens witnessed it and described it in Pictures from Italy (1846):

"The Corso is a street a mile long; a street of shops, and palaces, and private houses, sometimes opening into a broad piazza. There are verandahs and balconies, of all shapes and sizes, to almost every house - not on one story alone, but often to one room or another on every story - put there in general with so little order or regularity, that if, year after year, and season after season, it had rained balconies, hailed balconies, snowed balconies, blown balconies, they could scarcely have come into existence in a more disorderly manner. 
This is the great fountain-head and focus of the Carnival. 
But all the streets in which the Carnival is held, being vigilantly kept by dragoons, it is necessary for carriages, in the first instance, to pass, in line, down another thoroughfare, and so come into the Corso at the end remote from the Piazza del Popolo; which is one of its terminations. Accordingly, we fell into the string of coaches, and, for some time, jogged on quietly enough; now crawling on a very slow walk; now trotting half-a-dozen yards; now backing fifty; and now stopping altogether: as the pressure in front obliged us. If any impetuous carriage dashed out of the rank and clattered forward, with the wild idea of getting on faster, it was suddenly met, or overtaken, by a trooper on horseback, who, deaf as his own drawn sword to all remonstrances, immediately escorted it back to the very end of the row, and made it a dim speck in the remotest perspective. 
Occasionally we interchanged a volley of confetti with the carriage next in front, or the carriage next behind; but as yet, this capturing of stray and errant coaches by the military, was the chief amusement. ... 
But if the scene be bright, and happy, and crowded, on the last day but one, it attains, on the concluding day, to such a height of glittering colour, swarming life, and frolicsome uproar, that the bare recollection of it makes me giddy at this moment. The same diversions, greatly heightened and intensified in the ardour with which they are pursued, go on until the same hour. The race is repeated; the cannon are fired; the shouting and clapping of hands are renewed; the cannon are fired again; the race is over; and the prizes are won. But the carriages: ankle-deep with sugar-plums within, and so be-flowered and dusty without, as to be hardly recognisable for the same vehicles that they were, three hours ago: instead of scampering off in all directions, throng into the Corso, where they are soon wedged together in a scarcely moving mass. 
For the diversion of the Moccoletti, the last madness of the Carnival, is now at hand; and sellers of little tapers like what are called Christmas candles in England, are shouting lustily on every side, "Moccoli, Moccoli! Ecco Moccoli!" - a new item in the tumult; quite abolishing that other item of "Ecco Fiori! Ecco Fior-r-r!" which has been making itself audible over all the rest, at intervals, the whole day through. 
As the bright hangings and the dresses are all fading into one dull, heavy, uniform colour in the decline of the day, lights begin flashing, here and there: in the windows, on the house-tops, in the balconies, in the carriages, in the hands of foot-passengers: little by little: gradually, gradually: more and more: until the whole long street is one great glare and blaze of fire. 
Then everybody present has but one engrossing object; that is, to extinguish other people's candles, and to keep his own alight; and everybody: man, woman, or child, gentleman or lady, prince or peasant, native or foreigner: yells and screams, and roars incessantly, as a taunt to the subdued, "Senza Moccolo, Senza Moccolo!" (Without a light! Without a light!) until nothing is heard but a gigantic chorus of those two words, mingled with peals of laughter.  
The spectacle, at this time, is one of the most extraordinary that can be imagined. 
Carriages coming slowly by, with everybody standing on the seat or on the box, holding up their lights at arms' length, for greater safety; some in paper shades; some with a bunch of undefended little tapers, kindled altogether; some with blazing torches; some with feeble little candles; men on foot, creeping along, among the wheels, watching their opportunity, to make a spring at some particular light, and dash it out; other people climbing up into carriages, to get hold of them by main force; others, chasing some unlucky wanderer, round and round his own coach, to blow out the light he has begged or stolen somewhere, before he can ascend to his own company, and enable them to light their extinguished tapers; others, with their hats off, at a carriage-door, humbly beseeching some kind-hearted lady to oblige them with a light for a cigar, and when she is in the fullness of doubt whether to comply or no, blowing out the candle she is guarding so tenderly with her little hand; other people at the windows, fishing for candles with lines and hooks, or letting down long willow-wands with handkerchiefs at the end, and flapping them out, dexterously, when the bearer is at the height of his triumph; others, biding their time in corners, with immense extinguishers like halberds, and suddenly coming down upon glorious torches; others, gathered round one coach, and sticking to it; others, raining oranges and nosegeys at an obdurate little lantern, or regularly storming a pyramid of men, holding up one man among them, who carries one feeble little wick above his head, with which he defies them all! Senza Moccolo! Senza Moccolo! 
Beautiful women, standing up in coaches, pointing in derision at extinguished lights, and clapping their hands, as they pass on crying, "Senza Moccolo! Senza Moccolo!" low balconies full of lovely faces and dresses, struggling with assailants in the streets; some repressing them as they climb up, some bending down, some leaning over, some shrinking back - delicate arms and bosoms - graceful figures - glowing lights, fluttering dresses, Senza Moccolo, Senza Moccoli, Senza Moc-co-lo-o-o-o! - when in the wildest enthusiasm of the cry, and fullest ecstasy of the sport, the Ave Maria rings from the church steeples, and the Carnival is over in an instant - put out like a taper, with a breath! 
... the game of the Moccoletti (the word, in the singular, Moccoletto, is a diminutive of Moccolo, and means a little lamp or candle-snuff) is supposed by some to be a ceremony of burlesque mourning for the death of the Carnival: candles being indispensable to Catholic grief. 
But whether it be or so, or be a remnant of the ancient Saturnalia, or an incorporation of both, or have its origin in anything else, I shall always remember it, and the frolic, as a brilliant and most captivating sight: no less remarkable for the unbroken good-humour of all concerned, down to the very lowest (and among those who scaled the carriages were many of the commonest men and boys), than for its innocent vivacity. 
For, odd as it may seem to say so, of a sport so full of thoughtlessness and personal display, it is as free from any taint of immodesty as any general mingling of the two sexes can possibly be; and there seems to prevail, during its progress, a feeling of general, almost childish, simplicity and confidence, which one thinks of with a pang, when the Ave Maria has rung it away, for a whole year."

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