The masquerade ball has connections to the Carnival stretching back to the 12th century, when the Pope and the ruling classes of Rome watched a parade of citizens progressing through the streets toward a celebration site where animals were slaughtered for feast and festivity. All this was taking place before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Catholic calendar. The carnival’s ties to Lent are legendary, as alcohol flowed relentlessly, and raucous acts of over indulgence and misbehaviour were enlivened by the anticipation of the long days of austerity to come. The masquerade ball seems a logical outgrowth of Carnival. To many minds the Carnival and the masked ball are inextricably linked.
Beginning in the 15th century and blossoming in the 16th century Renaissance throughout Italy, but particularly in Venice. Italian cities offered costumed festivals for the public, with the biggest extravaganzas reserved for the upper classes. In the New World New Orleans became the center of Carnival activity, which found the biggest audiences amongst Catholic populations, notably in St. Louis, Mobile, and New York. Immigrant groups like the Italians would seem the natural importers of masked balls, the Venetian custom, but it was the Germans who adopted and by 1880 expanded the masquerade business to gigantic proportions in New York City, where the largest venue in town, Madison Square Garden., was filled every year. The Germans were in New York and they were organized. The Turnverein, the Harugari, and the Arion Society were all groups established for immigrants from Germany, who needed help acclimatizing to their new land. The Arion Society was a social organization that encouraged music and poetry within their membership, and being at the center of the nation’s printing industry in New York, they ordered the most marvelously designed tickets for their masquerade balls, which were among the finest productions of the lithographer’s art.
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