The Wild Costumes of the Schembartlauf

The Schembart Carnival was a pre-Lenten festival held in Nuremberg from the late 14th century until it was ended in 1539. “Shembart” means “beardmask,” and refers to the wooden beards often worn as part of the elaborate costumes in the parade. The tradition began has a reward for butchers who backed the City Council during a 1348 revolt of trade guilds. The butchers were granted the right to perform a Shrovetide dance through the city center, with the path for the dancers cleared by a procession of masked men.

Over time, the elite began to pay for the right to participate in the procession, and the costuming grew ever-more elaborate, with extravagant horse-drawn floats called “Hells.” It was finally ended where a preacher complained of his depiction in an effigy showing him holding a backgammon board (a common gambling game) and cavorting with demons and fools.

The costumes became a popular subject for artists and numerous color illustrations were produced after the tradition ended. The following illustrations come from the 17th century N├╝rnberger Schembart-Buch.

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Bunches of leaves concealed fireworks.

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Jousting and other games were part of the pageant.
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The figure on the ship with the backgammon board is probably meant to depict Osiander, the preacher whose complaints led to the cancellation of the procession.

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