Masquerade Ball History
A masquerade ball (or masque) is an event which the participants attend in costume, usually including a mask.
Such gatherings were based on increasingly elaborate allegorical pageants and triumphal processions celebrating marriages and other dynastic events of late medieval court life. Masquerade balls were extended into costumed public festivities in Italy during the 15th century Renaissance(Italian, maschera).
They were generally elaborate dances held for members of the upper classes, and were particularly popular in Venice. They have been associated with the tradition of the Venetian Carnival.
They became popular throughout mainland Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, sometimes with fatal results. Gustav III of Swedenwas assassinated at a masquerade ball by disgruntled nobleman Jacob Johan Anckarstrom, an event which Eugene Scribe wrote about in his play Gustave III, and which was later made in to an opera Un Ballo in Maschera, by Giuseppe Verdi.
(“Burning Men’s Ball”) was intended as a Bal des sauvages (“Wild Men’s Ball”) a costumed ball (morisco). It was in celebration of the marriage of a lady-in-waiting of Charles VI of France’s queen in Paris on January 28, 1393. The King and five courtiers dressed as wildmen of the woods (woodwoses), with costumes of flax and pitch. When they came too close to a torch, the dancers caught fire.Such costumed dances were a special luxury of the ducal court of Burgundy.
Venetian Masquerade Balls
John James Heidegger, a Swiss count, is credited with having introduced the Venetian fashion of a semi-public masquerade ball, to which one might subscribe, to London in the early eighteenth century, with the first being held at Haymarket Opera House. Throughout the century the dances became popular, both in England and Colonial America.
Its prominence did not go unchallenged; a significant anti-masquerade movement grew alongside the balls themselves. The anti-masquerade writers (among them such notables as Henry Fielding) held that the events encouraged immorality and “foreign influence”. While they were sometimes able to persuade authorities to their views, enforcement of measures designed to end masquerades was at best desultory.
Masquerade balls were sometimes set as a game among the guests. The masked guests were supposedly dressed so as to be unidentifiable. This would create a type of game to see if a guest could determine each others’ identities. This added a humorous effect to many masques and enabled a more enjoyable version of typical balls.
Modern Masquerade Balls
Masquerade balls are still held today, though in modern times the party atmosphere is emphasized and the formal dancing usually less prominent. Less formal “costume parties” may be a descendant of this tradition.
The picturesque quality of the masquerade ball has made it a favorite topic or setting in literature. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death” is based on the concept of a masquerade ball in which a central figure is just what he is costumed to be. Another ball in Zurich is featured in the novel Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.
“Regency” romance novels, which are typically about Britain’s upper class “ton” during the 1800s, often make use of masquerade balls as settings, due both to their popularity at the time and to their endless supply of plot devices.
At ancient Greek festivals in honour of Dionysus, the god of theatre, performers began wearing huge masks. When the Romans conquered southern Europe, they adopted the Grecian love of theatre and the use of masks in plays and celebrations.
Historically, masquerading was a shared practice also among Venetians, but nobody knows when they started wearing masks. The Venetian environment, because of it’s crowed city conditions, didn’t really allow for individual anonymity or privacy. So the use of mask became the perfect accessory to the love of transgression.
The ancient and very common use of masquerade masks and costumes in Venice was covered by laws, which, despite their apparent rigour, left a good deal of freedom. The oldest of these type of ordinances dates back to 1268 and would continue being passed right up until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.
The main masquerade mask in Venice is called “Bauta”, which consists of a black veil, know as “tabarro”, worn with a black three-corned hat and a white mask in paper mache, completed by a long cape. Both men and women could wear this garment in many occasions, such as festivals, theatre and public gaming room.