Venice, once an exotic East-meets-West Xanadu, had long been a tourist honeypot by the turn of the 18th century, with Europe’s best courtesans, elegant gambling salons and of course the original grand old party, Carnevale. Most famous of all revelers was Casanova whose infamous seductions were, indeed, an expression of Venetian licentiousness. 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.
Nowadays anyone who can afford tickets can party the night away at Venice’s most exclusive private palazzi. The most opulent of the Balls may well be Il Ballo del Doge, once described by Vanity Fair as “the most sumptuous, refined exclusive ball in the world.” You can either create or bring your own costume from home or, better yet, hire sumptuous finery from a Venetian atelier. If you go this route be sure to plan ahead, especially if you have something spectacular or specific in mind. As you might expect, renting a costume can be expensive (800 euros or more). Most important of all, you will need to BYO mask, as they are seldom rented. (All photographs featured in this post are courtesy of Anita Sanseverino who has been taking amazing photos of La Bella Italia for decades.)