Venice, once an exotic East-meets-West Xanadu had by the turn of the 18th century long been a tourist honeypot with Europe’s best courtesans, elegant gambling salons and extravagant festivals like Carnevale. Most famous of all revelers was Casanova whose infamous seductions were, indeed, an expression of Venetian decadence. But then, abruptly, Carnevale was kaput. Napoleon, notorious killjoy that he was, decreed an end to all masquerade balls and public festivities when he took Venice as his own in 1797. It was not until 1979 that the pipers piped and revelers once again reveled thanks to many young art students committed to reviving the craft of mask-making.
Each year around this time, you can experience a joyous re-enactment of the original grand old party (about a 10-day affair)…and partake in a dizzying photographic feast without equal! There are many special public events like the candle-lit parade of boats, concerts, street performances and, of course, people parading around in spectacular period costumes. Also, not to be missed, are the opulent masquerade balls held in Venice’s most exclusive private palazzi which anyone can attend, though tickets are pricey. You can either bring your own costume, better yet, hire sumptuous finery from a Venetian atelier.
(Most of the photographs featured in this post are courtesy of my dear friend and colleague Anita Sanseverino who has been taking dazzling photos of La Bella Italia for decades.)
Plump, naked, and adorable, amorini are those androgynous winged babies that tumble and flutter through Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo art. You may have also heard the related term putti. Both terms are Latin diminutives; amorini for love and putti for “putus,” meaning “boy child.” Amorini are typically depicted as angelic cherubs in religious scenes or frolicking cupids in mythological narratives. In both cases, their presence, whether divine or earthly, always symbolizes love and joy.
However young these playful, ever-curious and fetching flying bambini appear, they’re quite old . . . going back to classical antiquity, when they were winged messengers of the Greek gods known as “erotes,” members of Aphrodite’s train, who conveyed various forms of love to humans. They were recast as child-angels in early Christian imagery but fell out of favor during the dour and dreary Middle Ages.
Then came their rediscovery, along with a cornucopia of other classical images, during the Renaissance when masters like Donatello and Raphael breathed new life into them, creating a new generation as bacchanalian as their ancestors. Ever popular and ubiquitous today, especially around Valentines’ Day, amorini bring delight and enchantment to whatever tableaux they join.
Sicily and its Aeolian Islands are places of magic where myths and legends were born. The Greek gods made these lands their playground and demonstrated a penchant for “Sicilian real estate,” especially the stunningly beautiful Aeolian Islands, which served as the backdrop to some of the classic stories of antiquity.
On his epic ten-year voyage home from the Trojan War, Odysseus made the treacherous passage through the clutches of Scylla, a man-eating monster that lived in a cliff-side cave across from the mighty whirlpool of Charybdis (thought to be the Straits of Messina.) Then Odysseus journeyed on to the Aeolian Islands to pay his respects to Aeolus, the god of the winds, who resided in a castle on the island of Lipari, the largest of the fertile cluster of seven volcanic islands. The fearsome god Hephaestos, who represents blacksmiths, artisans, metallurgy and fire, lived on the fire-belching island of Vulcano where he forged the arms that protected the gods and heroes of the Trojan War.
While more and more Americans discover the many allures of La Bella Sicila, few have yet to venture to the largely undiscovered Aeolian Islands. As you dream of vacations to come, consider basing a stay on Lipari from which you can explore any of the Aeolian islands including the island of Stromboli which, after Hawaii’s Kilauea, is the world’s most active volcano.
Most of the photographs featured were taken from Lipari with several from Vulcano, Salina and Filicidi.