Bohemian Carnevale – a splash of colour to liven up February's frozen grey
Say the word ‘carnival’ and people usually think of the colourful extravaganzas of Brazil or Venice, but the period leading up to the beginning of lent is celebrated across the world, including the Czech Republic. Here it’s known as “masopust”, which means pretty much the same thing as the Italian “carnevale” – i.e. to refrain from eating meat. Masopust is mostly celebrated in Moravia, but a husband and wife team is trying to resurrect the lavish Prague carnival that was the social event of the year in centuries gone by.
“We have notes that Amadeus Mozart and Casanova danced in masks like this one at the masked ball in Prague.”
“Mozart used to wear a gold mask, and Casanova used to wear one made out of black velvet. Casanova was already an old man – Mozart was just twenty-five.”
The roots of the Bohemian carnevale – Zlatuše prefers the Italian term to the Czech ‘masopust’ or English ‘carnival’ – go back to the late 13th century, although the carnival reached its peak during the Renaissance. The festivities in 1570 were breathtakingly lavish; the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo built a huge papier-mâché model of Mount Etna on the Old Town Square, erupting in a volcano of fireworks before disgorging a procession of presumably terrified animals and aristocrats dressed as mythological figures. Rostislav Müller, an architect and designer, told me more about Arcimboldo’s career.
Last year saw a group of Sardinian carnival artists – dressed in allegorical costumes that have remained unchanged for centuries - parade through the Old Town. It’s a far cry from volcanoes erupting in the centre of Prague, but as Zlatuše Müller explained, it’s still a welcome dash of colour and decadence in the final cold, grey months of winter before the advent of spring.