The official passport to the Venice Carnival was the Domino, a bizarre costume that combined the mask Bauta, a hood of velvet silk and a three-cornered hat.
The Domino Costume
The Domino did hide all signs of class and swept away all barriers. With the mask in place, one could do or say as one pleased. Priest in Dominoes could conduct love affairs with impunity; working girls could sit next to patrician women at the gambling table. The Venetians were permitted to wear their Dominoes six months of the year from October to Lent. During the six months Carnival, many nobles removed their mask only to go to bed. Commoners frequently did the same, and during Carnival the two classes mixed as equals. It was the mask that finally brought democracy to Venice.
Ridotto, the Gambling House
One place where nobles and plebeians mixed freely together was the imposing structure known as the Ridotto, a gambling house that was located near the florid baroque church of St. Moisè, not far from Piazza San Marco. A veritable temple of chance in an age that worshipped money, the Ridotto’s luxurious red and gold rooms were hung with stamped leather and illuminated by finest crystal chandeliers from Murano. In their stultifying idleness, Venetian noblemen carried gambling to inordinate extremes: they hazarded their clothes, their landed estates, even their wives – any one of which might find its way into the lap of a masked commoner. Many great patrician families were ruined by gambling, and many commoners were vastly enriched. So serious a problem did did gambling become that the Venetian Authority closed the Ridotto in 1774. Gambling did cease, however, it simply went underground.
A Total Sex Freedom
After gambling, extramarital sex was the most favored pastime of the 1700 Venetian Carnivals. For centuries Venetian women had a straitlaced, secluded home life, while the men restricted their sexual activities to their wives and their house servants. Then during seventeenth century, standards of sexual morals began to relax and the sexual market was wide open. It has been said that in 1700 Venice all women were courtesans during the Carnival. Absolute freedom reigned in the sexual sphere during the Carnival, and Venetian women made the most of it.
Cicisbeo, a “Second Husband”
The key figures in the liberation of the Venetian woman, mainly during six-months Carnival, were her tolerant husband and her Cicisbeo, or recognized companion. After the first year of marriage, a patrician woman was free to choose her Cicisbeo with the full content of her husband. He had to be her social equal and attended his lady constantly, kissing her hand every time he met her, constantly accompanying her to the Carnival parties dancing Minuetto. He helped her into her gondola, called her servants for her, occasionally he made love to her.
The Casino, a nest of pleasure
While the Patrician wife was off was off frolicking with her cicisbeo, the Patrician husband was more than likely frolicking with his Carnival- love- of -the- moment at his “Casino“after dancing Minuetto at the parties in the sumptuous palaces overlooking the Grand Canal . The Casino was a small love nest, usually decorated with Murano mirrors and frescoes, that the Patricians maintained for the entertainment of his amours, after the Carnival balls. The nobleman would take his love to his Casino in a covered Gondola.