Masks in Pre Modern Europe by lindahy


Masks in Pre Modern Europe

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									                              Mask Making in the Early Modern Period

          Masks in Pre Modern
“In the Middle Ages, masks were used in the mystery plays of the 12th to the 16th century.
In plays dramatizing portions of the Old and New Testaments, grotesques of all sorts, such as
devils, demons, dragons, and personifications of the seven deadly sins, were brought to stage
life by the use of masks. Constructed of papier-mâché, the masks of the mystery plays were
evidently marvels of ingenuity and craftsmanship, being made to articulate and to belch fire
and smoke from hidden contrivances. But again, no reliable pictorial record has survived.”1

Occasions Where Masks Were Used
“The 15th-century Renaissance in Italy witnessed the rise
of a theatrical phenomenon that spread rapidly to France, to
Germany, and to England, where it maintained its
popularity into the 18th century. Comedies improvised
from scenarios based upon the domestic dramas of the
ancient Roman comic playwrights Plautus (254?–184 BC)
and Terence (186/185–159 BC) and upon situations drawn
from anonymous ancient Roman mimes flourished under
the title of commedia dell'arte.

Adopting the Roman stock figures and situations to their
own usage's, the players of the commedia were usually
masked. Sometimes the masking was grotesque and
fanciful, but generally a heavy leather mask, full or half    Figure Number range Figure - A
face, disguised the commedia player. Excellent pictorial      modern Commedia dell'arte mask
                                                                 based on 16th C examples
records of both commedia costumes and masks exist; some
sketches show the characters of Arlecchino and Colombina wearing black masks covering
merely the eyes, from which the later masquerade mask is certainly a development.”2


Another occasion where masks were worn was in the practice of mumming, those who
practiced the art were called mummers. The term described their practice of not speaking, so
as to not give away their identity. The mummers worn vizards (an old term for masks) and
would travel from house to house playing dice, this practice was particularly associated with
Christmas time.

Mummers were originally bands of masked persons who during winter festivals in Europe
paraded the streets and entered houses to dance or play dice in silence. “Momerie” was a
popular amusement between the 13th and 16th century. In the 16th century it was absorbed
by the Italian carnival masquerading (and hence was a forerunner of the courtly
entertainment known as masque).

1 accessed 17/01/2005
                            Mask Making in the Early Modern Period


“The Vikings did not
celebrate Halloween, and
while they had a major
celebration at near the same
time of year, it did not
involve costumes or
masquerades. Yet we know
from archaeology that they
did use masks, and there is
evidence to suggest that
these may have been
connected with a different
seasonal celebration.”3            Figure Number range Figure - Two views of sheep mask from Haithabu,
                                                    shown flat and formed into shape.
“While masquerades and costumes did not make up a part of the Vetrnætr celebration, we do
have evidence that masks were used in Scandinavia, from archaeological remains found at
Haithabu (Hedeby). Two masks, made of felted material, were among the textile remains
found at this site.”4

The first mask, shown above, is thought to represent a sheep. This mask is formed from thin,
reddish felt material. The dimensions are approximately 7.5" (19 cm) wide, 5.5" (14 cm)
high, with a thickness of 5/32" (0.4 cm).5

Many materials were used to create masks in period:
      Paper mache

3 accessed 17/01/2005
4 ibid
5 accessed 20/01/2005
                          Mask Making in the Early Modern Period

The following information comes from the website of Lady Sveva Lucciola

Sized Fabric

You can size fabric by infusing it with glue, this is the method used to make buckram. While
wet, it will have no intrinsic support of its own, so you need a form to shape it over or a mold
to shape it in. The type of fabric and amount of glue used will determine how hard the final
mask will be both in integrity and in surface texture. For example, satin is thin and will make
a hard shiny mask. Fake fur has a lot of depth and you could choose to only get glue on the
inner "fabric" part to make a slightly flexible mask with fur on the outside, or you could
saturate it and get a mask with hard spiky bit on the outside. The stretch of the fabric will
also have some direct effects. Fabrics that are woven with little stretch in them, such as tight
plain weaves, will not conform to your desired shapes easily. You may have wrinkles, etc.
Felt and stretchy fabrics will conform more smoothly to your form or mold.

When choosing what type of glue to use, keep in mind the conditions the mask will undergo.
It needs to dry hard (rubber cement is right out!). I have used Elmers, Ailene’s Fabric
Stiffener,(both are PVA white glues, I think) and wallpaper glue and I have read about using
a flexible bookbinders glue. I suppose that a heavy starch glue or flour glue would work, but
you need to check to see if the heat from your face, or your sweat will dissolve this glue and
make you mask soggy. I would not recommend any glues that give off fumes-- Even if you
think your mask is dry, you will be surprised at how strong it will smell with your head in

      Set up form and cover with protective material if it needs it. (foil, plastic wrap,
      masking tape, etc. NOT VASELINE–makes inside of mask mucky and hard to dry)
      Soak fabric in glue or sizing
      Drape soggy fabric over form and gently smooth out. Try to use ONE piece of fabric
      over form. Trim off excess that interferes with shape (leave other excess on for later
      Blow a little dry with hair dryer to form a surface skin, and then smooth out more.
      This way your fingers won’t get as sticky.
      If using a thin fabric, do a second layer over the first.
      Let dry completely (over night).
      Pop off form (ususally pretty easy)
      Trim off perimeter but leave ½ inch surplus around rim
      Make tiny slits in this outer excess and fold back onto inside edge and glue down.
      Cut out eyes and add fastners (straps, ribbons, etc)
      Decorate by sewing, gluing or whatever (can mix dye with glue to paint on)!

Paper Mache

There are two basic styles of mache, pulp or strips. I prefer strips for strength. I would not
recommend using pulp for anything other than the use of a mold. However, you can also
combine the two. You can use these with an understructure of paper covered wire or twisted
paper if you need to bulk out a piece. Best method is in a negative cast, although over a form
works too. This biggest problem is that it shrinks when drying, and over the form it could
crack or weaken if it shrinks too much. In a cast it will only appear to shrink a little and
make it easier to get out of the cast.
                          Mask Making in the Early Modern Period

Strips Method
       Set up form and cover with protective material if it needs it. (foil, plastic wrap, etc.
       NOT VASELINE –makes inside of mask mucky and hard to dry)
       Soak paper strips (newpaper, paperbags, tissue…NOT shiny like magazine! Strips
       must be TORN, not cut)
       Overlap soggy strips over form. You can tear into smaller pieces. Smooth out surface
       as you go. Put on 2 applications, each around 3-4 layers thick due to overlapping.
       Let dry 48 hours!!
       Pry off form and trim edges and eyes
       Cover with a last layer of paper toweling, tissue paper (big sheets, not stuff you blow
       nose on) or some other thin but strong paper.
       Coat with some sort of sealant…glue, shellac, or lacquer primer.
       You might have to gently sand rough spots or to great a smooth texture. Repeat
       coatings and sanding until as smooth at you want it.
       Decorate with paint or glued on decoration
       Add fasteners (straps, ribbons, etc)


This medium is best used for Positive cast methods. The following is the "Master" mask
maker process used to create the Comedia masks in Italy. If you do not intend to do quite as
detailed or extensive a mask, you can use the method similar to the sized fabric, only you
don't need any glue. (Soak the leather, drape it over the form and let it dry.) The process
described below is for a much more detailed and durable mask. It is a time intensive process,
where you really can not stop and come back to it later. Allow at least 6 hours for this

       Important things to note, you should use VEGETABLE tanned leather! The directions
       I have call specifically for a piece of the cow belly. You want this to be in one piece.
       (Splicing in leather to creat unstretchable shapes, like a really long nose, is another
       whole chapter!)

Italian Leather Mast Method
        Create a firm form, such as wood, for the mask. It needs to be wood to absorb
        moisture, withstand pounding, and be able to be nailed into.
        Submerge the leather (cowhide belly…and it must be VEGETABLE tanned) in very
        hot water and soak for 10 minutes or until completely saturated.
        Rub, wring and twist to soften.
        Dip again in water.
        Cover the form with the wetted leather and smush into depressions of mask form. Be
        Tack leather on the underside of the mold and into the eye sockets. Carpet tacks made
        of iron will discolor leather, but it’s going to be cut off anyway, so it shouldn’t
        matter. Brass or copper tacks do not discolor. Tack midpoints of sides, and then work
        toward corners.
        Make sure you leave sufficient fullness on front of the mold for the leather to reach in
        all depressions.
        If you get folds of surplus leather make little "v" cuts (on back only) to release and
        allow to lie smooth.
        Press leather into all grooves and depressions of the mold with fingers and wooden
        tool (hardwood sticketta). Keep heaviest strokes running toward low places rather
        than away from it. Tack if you need to in the eyes, nostrils, etc.
        This should take about an hour. Take an hour break at this point.
                           Mask Making in the Early Modern Period

        When leather is getting dryer, but is still slightly damp, peck with horn hammer to
        force to lie close to mold. Little dimpling (not breaking) points all over.
        As you finish each section or plane, rub over with sticketta again to smooth and
        Once this is done, polish the formed leather with a flat edge of sticketta, rubbing to a
        smooth gloss.
        Remove nails and finish perimeter (like fabric mask, clip and turn overlap, and glue
        in place…if you need a wire to reinforce, here is where it would be inserted.)
        Seal interior with varnish
        Color exterior with leather dyes and paints.

        Twycross, Meg and Carpenter, Sarah. Masks and Masking in Medieval and Early
        Tudor England. Ashgate Publishing Limited. England; 2002 ISBN 0-7546-0230-3


        Aiofre Links (Annotated) -
        Stefans’ Florilegium Information On Mask
        Form and Function of Masks -
        Mistress Oonagh – Pictures of Period Masks -
        Lady Sveva Lucciola -
        The English Court Masque -
        A Byzantine Mask -
        Article - English Court Masque -
        History of Masks -
        About Mumming -
        A & S Documentation for a Mask -
        Viking Masks -
        Spanish Masks -
        Mask Info Links -

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