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Venice, La Serenissima, was  a Republic with a rigid aristocratic structure and a strong middle class who grew wealthy on trade with the East and mercantile naval power. Venice’s diverse population created a broad-minded and generally tolerant society that granted women more freedom than most.Venetian women occupied a special place in their society : patricians and courtesans alike were allowed social encounters with men outside the home, which was exceptional for the times. Women of the middle and lower social ranks enjoyed even more freedom than those of the nobility: they were able to own property, participate in the public life of the marketplace, and defend themselves in court. Venice also had a large number of prostitutes or courtesans and also a large community of committed nuns and destitute women who lived in convents. Although there was no  formal recognition of their rights, Venetian women were in a privileged position. Venice’s cosmopolitan, fun-loving and dynamic atmosphere, symbolized by the Carnival festivities, was largely dependent on the Venetian women’s active participation: their beauty, charm, elegance, and sex appeal honoured the city. The mask is the emblem of the Carnival: it allowed for privacy and anonymity in a period of social celebrations, open-air partying and sexual transgression.

This talk will focus on the historical role played by the masked faces of the Venetian carnival, and will briefly point to contemporary implementations of masks in social and cultural movements of protest and transformation.

It aims to celebrate the musical and artistic creative force of masked anonymity and its potential for defying rigid social and political structures.


About the Eventalks

The theme of the Early Music Festival 2016 (26 August to 4 September) was Venice: ‘La Serenissima’. For the second time, in close collaboration with Utrecht University’s Centre for the Humanities and the Residencies in Utrecht programme, the festival presented a secular version of evensong, named Eventalk.

The spoken element of Eventalk was entrusted to thinkers and artists. They made short, inspiring presentations with a twist, like an intellectual haiku, with a musical interlude by Artist in residence Olga Pashchenko. In this way Eventalk combines a stimulating discourse with beautiful instrumental music by one of the most versatile performers on the keyboard.

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