Carnival in Rome

Bartolomeo Pinelli, Il Carnevale in Roma, 1815. From: Nuova Raccolta di cinquanta costumi pittoreschi […], Plate 49.
Source: e-rara / ETH-Bibliothek

Carriages, Enormous Eye-Glasses, Strange Animals

Charles Dickens lived in Italy for eleven months in 1844-45. He wrote about his stay in the travelogue Pictures from Italy, published the year after his return to England. His vivid description of Carnival in Rome in the Pictures from Italy rivals Goethe’s famous account from nearly sixty years earlier. The amusing prints of the festivities by Bartolomeo Pinelli, dating midway between the two texts, perfectly capture details noted by both authors.

In the following excerpt, Dickens gives an impression of the range of costumes and customs seen in the streets during Carnevale:

“… the spectators at some upper balcony or window, joining in the fray, and attacking both parties, would empty down great bags of confetti, that descended like a cloud, and in an instant made them white as millers. Still, carriages on carriages, dresses on dresses, colours on colours, crowds upon crowds, without end. Men and boys clinging to the wheels of coaches, and holding on behind, and following in their wake, and diving in among the horses’ feet to pick up scattered flowers to sell again; maskers on foot (the drollest generally) in fantastic exaggerations of court-dresses, surveying the throng through enormous eye-glasses, and always transported with an ecstasy of love, on the discovery of any particularly old lady at a window; long strings of Policinelli, laying about them with blown bladders at the ends of sticks; a waggon-full of madmen, screaming and tearing to the life; a coach-full of grave mamelukes, with their horse-tail standard set up in the midst; a party of gipsy-women engaged in terrific conflict with a shipful of sailors; a man-monkey on a pole, surrounded by strange animals with pigs’ faces, and lions’ tails, carried under their arms, or worn gracefully over their shoulders; carriages on carriages, dresses on dresses, colours on colours, crowds upon crowds, without end. Not many actual characters sustained, or represented, perhaps, considering the number dressed, but the main pleasure of the scene consisting in its perfect good temper; in its bright, and infinite, and flashing variety; and in its entire abandonment to the mad humour of the time…”

– Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy (London: Bradbury & Evans, 1846), pp. 178-179.

Whether you celebrate Carnival, Carnevale, Shrovetide, Fasnacht, Mardi Gras, or Fasching … enjoy it while it lasts!

Bartolomeo Pinelli, costumes of Roman Carnival, 1812. From: Lettre de M. Millin,… à M. Langlès, sur le carnaval de Rome (Paris: J.-B. Sajou, 1812).
Source: Gallica / Bibliothèque nationale de France