Four Ways of Looking at a Mask

View as Slideshow

Bill Ross/CORBIS
1. As a Trick
The tradition of masked mischief in Venice began in the 11th century as part of the getup guaranteeing anonymity to boys, whose hobby it was to hurl eggs at young noblewomen. In and out of favor since then, Venetian masks were used to obscure the identity of those testifying in court or to enhance one's outfit for a night on the town. In the 17th century, they were ruled decadent and relegated to Carnevale. Masks disappeared when Napoléon gave Venice to Austria-only to return in the mid-20th century with commedia dell'arte theater. Today, souvenirs like this gold-painted, triple-faced fright are sold all over Venice.

Malcolm Kirk
2. As a Tribal Tradition
It's the men who spend all day putting on their faces in the Huli tribe of Papua New Guinea. The vibrant reds, whites, and yellows-meant to mimic the colors of the bird of paradise, revered as a tribal ancestor-are achieved with a mix of ocher and mud. The men also grow their hair long, then chop it off to use in headdresses. Unlike the bird they emulate, they aren't preening for courtship. The wigmen, as they're known, pay for their wives in pigs and save the dress-up for a ritual dance celebrating clan pride.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
3. As a Remembrance
Morbid, gorgeous, or haunting, death masks were first created in ancient Egypt and remained popular as homages to public figures in 19th-century Europe. The one below captures the Romantic poet John Keats and was made from a clay impression taken after his 1821 death, at the age of 25. (The clay imprint was used as a model for the plaster mask.) For the poor and ailing poet, death was a common theme: My spirit is too weak-mortality/Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep. Today, his face, like his verse, lives on in the newly reopened Keats House in London.

Content continues below ad

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
4. As a Celebrity Replica
Last Halloween, the top-selling mask was candidate Barack Obama. This year, retailers predict a major spike in Michael Jackson look-alikes. In fact, Ogawa Rubber in Japan started cranking out King of Pop likenesses just days after the singer's death. Also expected to fly off the shelves: Transformers and Star Trek rubber pull-ons. Jason and Freddy, from Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, will also get plenty of face time, predicts mask retailer Greg Banta. But for trick-or-treating, at least, good still wins out over evil: When it comes to costumes, year after year, princesses are still the bestsellers.

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you the newsletter each week, and we may also send you occasional special offers from Reader's Digest. For more information please read our privacy policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.

Fields marked with an * are required
Foods That Harm Foods That HealWant a Free eBook?
FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL offers important information about the role diet plays in the struggle against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses. Answer the question below to receive your FREE digital eBook.

Someone in my household experiences the following conditions:

Send me a link to download FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL:
By clicking below, I agree to the Trusted Media Brands Privacy Policy