OLG and DCRT
Strategic Plan
2014-15 through 2018-19

         

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The Exhibit History Balls Parades Masks Courir du
Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras: Mystery and History

From the moment visitors enter the Presbytere, they are surrounded by the madcap merriment of Mardi Gras. Watching mischievously over the entry foyer is a pair of jesters, perched atop an elaborate sculpture of symbols associated with Carnival. In the adjacent introductory gallery, "mystery objects" fade in and out of view, harbingers of marvelous revelations to come.

Built upon a European foundation, Mardi Gras is a multicultural festival that also reflects Louisiana's African and Caribbean connections. Although Carnival's modern roots can be traced to twelfth-century Rome, it is believed that the medieval pre-Lenten celebration descended from the fertility rituals and seasonal events associated with earlier cultures. The exhibition compares ancient practices - animal sacrifice, masquerade, feasting - to contemporary traditions such as the boeuf gras (fatted calf), masking and spirited Courir practiced in rural Louisiana.

Although there is scant evidence of Carnival during the early 1700s, by 1781 it was established enough for Spanish colonial authorities to forbid free people of color and slaves to mask or mimic whites during the Carnival season. By the late nineteenth century, however, public masquerade balls and street processionals had evolved into a complex structure of social activities. These changes occurred as a result of public outcry over the prevalence of disorderly conduct during the antebellum era. In 1857 a new organization, the Mistick Krewe of Comus, emerged to transform the holiday. Costumed as "The Demon Actors in Milton's Paradise Lost" Comus members presented a dignified nighttime street procession followed by a private ball at the Gaiety Theatre. The aura of mystery and surprise associated with krewes to this day was conceived by Comus, which is represented in the exhibition by several extremely rare artifacts including a feathered duck helmet from 1908 and a parure (set of jewelry) from 1893.

Within fifteen years two more krewes - Twelfth Night Revelers and Rex - were born. The latter organization, which achieved prominence by billing its monarchs as the king and queen of Carnival, established a precedent by introducing a daytime parade. A huge display containing costumes and jewelry from the late 1800s shows the splendor and imagination of the first Rex celebrations.