Friday, October 16, 2015

Octoberfest Five: 5 Historical Masks

 ~by Marie Robinson

There’s something so unsettling about a mask. For me, it’s the fixed expression that really creeps me out. For some, it could be the overwhelming mystery about who it is behind that mask. Even so, this blog is dedicated to loving the things that scare us; so pull the blankets tight and indulge in these historical masks.

1. Visard

These masks were popular in the 16th century among wealthy women. There were comprised of an oval covered in black velvet with two eyeholes and a small bead on the inside for the lady to clench between her teeth. It would cover the whole face, and their primary use was for avoiding sunburn while traveling or enduring long hours outside, as to have pale skin was not only fashionable, but showed your class, as well.
The mask was made with no mouth so that it may increase the heir of mystery about the woman, although many found the accessory to be downright devilish.

2. Hannya

The Hannya mask has been used in various forms of ancient Japanese theatre, generally referred to as Noh. A program will usually consist of five Noh plays, usually dramatic stories accompanied by music, with Kyōgen, or comedic plays between each performance.
The Hannya mask is used frequently in Noh theatre, and represents a female demon, who has become that way due to jealousy or obsession. The masks’ dramatic array of expressions is supposed to represent the complexity of human emotions, and the actor may portray different emotions through different angles of the mask. Different skin tones mean different classes; a white-skinned Hannya mask represents a wealthy woman, red is for low-class women, and a deep red mask represents a true demon, who was never actually a woman although they at first pretend to be.

3. Plague Masks

I’m sure most of you are familiar with these, or have at least seen them; these are the masks of the French plague doctors in the 1600’s. Their whole costume, which was put
together with the idea of keeping the doctor from infection, consisted of a long overcoat, boots, gloves, a long smock, and, of course, the signature bird mask. The “beak” was stuffed with dried flowers and herbs, for at this time in history the doctors believed the plague was spread through bad (or “evil”) smells rather than germs. The doctors also carried canes so that may indicate and examine patients without touching them, and keep people away.
You can imagine how seeing someone walking about in this outfit would invoke fear, not only just from its unusually appearance, but also its association with sickness and death.

4. Splatter Mask

These bizarre masks were used in World War I for soldiers riding in tanks to protect their faces from shrapnel and splinters from the tank. The top half is goggles so that the soldiers eyes were protected but they could also see, and the bottom half is chainmail. There’s something about this awkward combination that makes the mask look primitive and unsettling. Definitely not something you want to come face-to-face with on the battlefield.

5. Death Mask

The name pretty much says it all, here. A death mask is a cast taken of a person’s face after they have died. They have been used for many different purposes, from identifying unknown corpses, painting portraits of the deceased, or simply a way of remembering the dead.
Some celebrities’ death masks include Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Beethoven, and Alfred Hitchcock.

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