I just got the cover for my next book (out in August from Harlequin Historicals! Pre-order now!), and am so excited I had to share. Her gown looks a little more “Restoration” than “1520s Venice” to me, and the hero in my book actually has long hair, but what the heck. I love the colors, the gondola, and the fact that my name is really BIG. That’s the important thing. 🙂

I was first inspired to write this story a couple of years ago, when I went to an exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe called “Carnival!”. Each section was devoted to a different city–New Orleans, Rio, etc. The Rio room was great fun, bright and noisy with samba filling the air (videos and music were used as well as artifacts and costumes), while the Venice room was elegant and mysterious. There were elaborate costumes and masks, beautiful paintings, even a gondola. The perfect spot, I thought, for an elegant and mysterious heroine to hide out, circa 1525! (Venice, that is, not the museum, though it’s great, too)

The carnival (or Carnevale di Venezia, loosely translated from the Latin for “Farewell, meat!”) was first recorded in 1268, and immediately gained a reputation for a subversive and naughty festival, running from a few weeks before Ash Wednesday and ending Shrove (or Fat) Tuesday. On Ash Wednesday, the party was over. Over the centuries, various laws were passed to try and curb the celebrations, including banning the wearing of masks, but that didn’t last too long (thankfully for my characters, who go about in disguise half the time!). People were allowed to wear masks all the time between the festival of San Stefano (St. Stephen’s Day, December 26) and midnight on Shrove Tuesday.

Venetian masks are usually made with leather or papier-mache, with traditional shapes including the bauta (a mask that covers only the upper part of the face) and the moretta, a black velvet ladies’ mask originating in France. The most common is the white volto, worn with a black tricorn and cloak (very stark and mysterious!).

The 18th century was the height of Carnival hedonism. In 1797, Venice became part of the Austrian Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, when Napoleon signed the treaty of Campo Formio. It went into a long decline, before being banned by the Fascist government in the 1930s. In the 1980s, it saw a revival which grows to this day.

Some Carnival links:
Official City of Venice Carnival Site
Casanova Venetian Masks
Carta Alta

I would love to have a Carnival party and invite everyone here at RR! If my house wasn’t so tiny, and I had a canal in the back yard for floating gondolas. Another chance to play dress-up! What would YOUR costume be?