Surely you are not be thinking about Halloween and what to wear that day since All Hallows’ Eve is still far away but maybe you will remember this article in autumn and your choice of which costume to wear will be easier.
The origins of the mask are not well known. The figure of the plague doctor was widespread throughout Europe already in the Middle Ages. To perfect the doctor’s mask giving it the appearance we now know was a famous French doctor in the seventeenth century, Charles de Lorme.
Unlike the others, it was a practical mask, actually used by doctors and surgeons of the time to protect themselves from the disease. The mask was accompanied by an oilcloth dress tightly closed around the mask. Despite its actual use, the plague doctor’s mask ended up becoming a real carnival costume since ancient times.
The plague doctor costume entirely covered the face of the person wearing it. At eye level, there were two pieces of glass attached to the mask, which allowed the person to see. In the lower part of the face, the well-known long hooked nose stretched. A detail that has now become the attribute par excellence of the plague doctor mask in the collective culture. Two horizontal cuts were then made on the side of the nose, in order to let the air pass.
In medical use, the nose had an effective function: it was in fact filled with aromatic herbs in order to filter the air breathed and thus avoid contagion. According to the knowledge of the Middle Ages and the early modern age, the transmission of the plague was in fact to be attributed to bad air.
The hands were also covered with gloves. Finally, a further accessory of the doctor was the stick, which was used by doctors to avoid touching the body of the infected.
On the day of the carnival, among all the marvelous costumes, even the plague doctors could be seen emerging from the calli of Venice. At first glance a simple joke, typical of the carnival, but at the same time a warning that alluded to the terrible years of the plague, which were an almost common event in those years.
Throughout Europe and Venice (Italy) in particular, the plague continually reappeared and the most infamous years were 1575 to 1630 when 30 percent of the Venetian population was exterminated y this terrible disease.
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