Mask Presentation

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Information about Mask Presentation

Published on April 7, 2008

Author: Union42



Instructor shares Elizabethan era masks and styles explored and used by craftspeople, actors and participants in the Venetian Carnivale and other venues.

Masks in the time of Elizabeth

Venetian Masquerade Summary The festival known as Carnival occurs throughout much of the Roman Catholic world. Many Americans, Catholic or not, have attended the festivities in New Orleans. But in Venice, Carnival traditions go all the way back to the Renaissance. For a 10-day period before Lent, from the day after Christmas until Shrove Tuesday, the ancient city comes alive with masked revelers enjoying pageants, commedia dell'arte, concerts and balls. Carnival (originally "carnevale"), comes from the Latin for "farewell to meat." This boisterous festival marks the beginning of Lent, the time before Easter when Catholics refrain from eating meat.

The Carnival History The oldest document pertaining to the use of masks in Venice dates back to 2nd May 1268. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, simple, pre-Lenten celebrations evolved into what we know as Carnival. But the tradition of masquerading, for which Carnival has become known, is much older than that. It has its roots in a Roman fertility festival where masks were worn by citizens and slaves alike. 1608 was an important year, the 13th August to be precise, when a decree from the council of 10 was issued declaring that the wearing of the mask throughout the year posed a serious threat to the Republic.

To avoid the terrible consequences of this immoral behavior, every citizen, nobleman and foreigner alike, was obliged to only wear a mask during the days of carnival and at official banquets. Two different decrees (1699 and 1718) saw the prohibition of wearing a mask during Lent and other religious festivals which took place during carnival. The 1700s were the glory days of the Venetian Carnival. In those times, mask-wearing and other unofficial activities continued past Lent, well into the spring. Carnival was a time of nonstop partying, gambling and general irresponsibility for people of all social classes. Of course this is all after Elizabethan times.

From the late 16 th Century, the Heraldry of locations like Venice and Verona (the setting of Romeo and Juliet) was captured in words of the playwright William Shakespeare and brought to the audiences of England. You may remember the scene when Romeo enters the Capulet Masquerade Ball with his Montague relatives.

Under the disguise, Romeo is able to steal away the heart of his true love and win the hearts of Shakespeare’s loyal fans. The following few panels of this presentation will join both the time period of the plays by Shakespeare where masks are used as props, the period costumes developed today to capture the Elizabethan spirit and the modern masks that have been inspired by leatherwork and papier mache masks of the past.

Here are two of the dancer costumes designed for the play and referenced at Internet Shakespeare Editions : . Other costumes follow on the next pages.


Here are the costumes redesigned for Juliet and Mercutio and Romeo’s costume on the next panel is followed by many delightful mask designs of today, inspired and influenced by the artisans and craftspeople of old. Enjoy! Please note the IP addresses of sites providing media for this slideshow at the end.


"Djinn"  Maker of mischiefs and magics, as wise and powerful as an ancient godling, commanded by the even wiser king-sage, Solomon. His face is deep blue and teal, and his power radiates in gleaming antique gold from his brow, wherein grows the jewel that is his all-seeing third eye. (stretchy strap) 

Gossamer" ~ fair  from the artist’s Fae Collection inspired by the poetry of Edmund Spencer. In 1596, Spencer penned his classic honoring Queen Elizabeth I, The Faerie Queene, (reference to her as a descendant of King Arthur.)

"Ruckus" , No. 9 The classic jester, its face in gleaming black,  its crown in bright colors and smothered in opalescent glitter, as small brass jingle bells dangle from it points. (stretch lace strap) © Ryl Mandus

These masks are from Spain, handcrafted from Leather, and truly fantastic! © Felix Gutierrez



Lots of character, variety, suspense, mystery- the masks provide a way for the people of Venice, of Shakespeare’s time to let their cares wash away in a most decadent way. This practice continues today on the streets of New Orleans during the city’s annual Mardi Gras celebration marking the beginning of Lent.

Masks have been used almost universally to represent characters in theatrical performances. Theatrical performances are a visual literature of a transient, momentary kind. It is most impressive because it can be seen as a reality; it expends itself by its very revelation. The mask participates as a more enduring element, since its form is physical. The mask as a device for theatre first emerged in Western civilization from the religious practices of ancient Greece. In the worship of Dionysus, god of fecundity and the harvest, the communicants' attempt to impersonate the deity by donning goatskins and by imbibing wine eventually developed into the sophistication of masking. When a literature of worship appeared, a disguise, which consisted of a white linen mask hung over the face (a device supposedly initiated by Thespis, a 6th-century-BC poet who is credited with originating tragedy), enabled the leaders of the ceremony to make the god manifest. Thus symbolically identified, the communicant was inspired to speak in the first person, thereby giving birth to the art of drama.

In Greece the progress from ritual to ritual-drama was continued in highly formalized theatrical representations. Masks used in these productions became elaborate headpieces made of leather or painted canvas and depicted an extensive variety of personalities, ages, ranks, and occupations. Heavily coiffured and of a size to enlarge the actor's presence, the Greek mask seems to have been designed to throw the voice by means of a built-in megaphone device and, by exaggeration of the features, to make clear at a distance the precise nature of the character. Moreover, their use made it possible for the Greek actors—who were limited by convention to three speakers for each tragedy—to impersonate a number of different characters during the play simply by changing masks and costumes. Details from frescoes, mosaics, vase paintings, and fragments of stone sculpture that have survived to the present day provide most of what is known of the appearance of these ancient theatrical masks. The tendency of the early Greek and Roman artists to idealize their subjects throws doubt, however, upon the accuracy of these reproductions. In fact, some authorities maintain that the masks of the ancient theatre were crude affairs with little aesthetic appeal.

Its obvious to most theatrically minded people (thespians) and those that study Shakespeare- that the Bard felt the influence of his times to continue the traditions present in the theatrical art form of his day and to continue to share the tradition with later admirers of his work. All of these beautiful Venetian Carnival Masks that follow were handmade in the Venetian tradition of "Mascareri" by some of the best mask makers in Venice, Italy!!! The positive e negative cast of every model is from a proprietary original design! In the Venetian Carnival masks market, these masks are the gold standard that new artisans try to copy, but they can not come close because they lack the knowledge and original materials to do so. With each handmade creation, you'll receive the highest possible quality in these Venetian Carnival Masks!




A 17TH-CENTURY death mask claimed to be that of British playwright William Shakespeare could be genuine, according to new research. The mask, discovered in a ragpicker's shop in 1842 and now owned by the German city of Darmstadt, has long been a subject of controversy. It bears the high forehead and prominent nose and beard associated with the Bard and bears the inscription "+ Ao Dm 1616", apparently meaning "Died Anno Domini 1616", the year Shakespeare passed away at the age of 52. But leading scholars have questioned the provenance of the mask and also said it is not a close enough match to the tiny handful of portraits that can be attributed to Shakespeare.

References: cooling-collar/Masks.html store/subcat.cfm?subcatID=223 UVic1998/ByScene/Rom1.5.html,20867,18245417-16947,00.html

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