TITLE: Commedia dell’Arte Capitano
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Capitano Cocodrillo Mask
MAKER: Alan G. Newman, Ubud, Bali (b. London, England)
CEREMONY: Commedia dell’Arte; Carnival
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; goat hair; elastic strap

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of public entertainment that succeeded the classical Roman theater in Italy.  Like classical theater, Commedia performers wore leather masks to represent stock characters and often performed in amphitheaters to large audiences.  However, the Commedia differed in having only a very basic plot sketch, with most of the lines invented extemporaneously by the actors.  The Commedia‘s ability to stay topical and its frequent resort to vulgar humor, combined with the considerable talent of Italian troupes that traveled throughout Europe, made this form of theater extremely popular throughout the early 17th to late 19th centuries. Masked actors had to compensate for their inability to convey facial emotion through posture, gesture, and vocal nuance.

The Capitani were long among the most popular stock characters of the Commedia. Different acting troupes used different captains.  They all had comical or evocative names, such as Spavento della Valle Inferna (Captain Fear of Hell’s Valley), Matamoros (Captain Moor-Killer), or Sangue y Fuego (Captain Blood-and-Fire).  The captain masks were originally flesh-colored, with a menacing nose to represent a bullying personality.

This specific Capitano represents Cocodrillo (Crocodile) and comes from classically trained mask maker Alan G. Newman.

To learn more about Commedia dell’Arte, see Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (Dover Pubs., 1966).

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TITLE: Bauta Carnival Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
SUBREGION: Venice
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Bauta
MAKER: Graziano “Safir” Viale (Lonigo [Vicenza], 1959- )
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; hardware

The bauta (“face”) is a classic Venetian carnival mask that covers the top part of the face to allow anonymity without interfering with the masquerader’s ability to speak, drink, or eat.  This is one of the oldest masks used in Venice for Carnival and masquerade balls, and was typically worn with a flowing black costume and a large three-corner hat.

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TITLE: Chuto
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Latin America
COUNTRY: Peru
SUBREGION: Jauja
ETHNICITY: Quechua
DESCRIPTION: Chuto
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Tunantada; Chonginada
AGE: 1979
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: wool; glass eyes; pigment

The Tunantada is a dance performed in the Jauja region of Peru during the January Festival of San Sebatián and San Fabián, patron saints of the town. Dancers in wire mesh masks represent the Spaniards, who oppress the chutos, or Amerindians.  The dance-drama satirizes all the groups of the colonial period.  It is a group dance, in which each character of the set performs different steps to the rhythm of a single melody.

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TITLE: Commedia dell’Arte Pantalone
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Don Pantalone Mask
MAKER: Alan G. Newman, Ubud, Bali (b. London, England)
CEREMONY: Commedia dell’Arte; Carnival
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; goat hair; elastic strap

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of public entertainment that succeeded the classical Roman theater in Italy.  Like classical theater, Commedia performers wore leather masks to represent stock characters and often performed in amphitheaters to large audiences.  However, the Commedia differed in having only a very basic plot sketch, with most of the lines invented extemporaneously by the actors.  The Commedia‘s ability to stay topical and its frequent resort to vulgar humor, combined with the considerable talent of Italian troupes that traveled throughout Europe, made this form of theater extremely popular throughout the early 17th to late 19th centuries. Masked actors had to compensate for their inability to convey facial emotion through posture, gesture, and vocal nuance.

Don Pantalone was long among the most popular stock characters of the Commedia. Pantalone is a money-grubbing business man, now old and retired, and apt to fall absurdly in love with young women.

This specific Pantalone comes from classically trained mask maker Alan G. Newman.

To learn more about Commedia dell’Arte, see Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (Dover Pubs., 1966).

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TITLE: Mardi Gras Crocodile
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUB-REGION: New Orleans, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Crocodile Mask
MAKER: Richard Thompson (Elmhurst, Illinois, 1957- )
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the United States, the holiday is nowhere more vigorously celebrated than in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, a two-week Carnival season terminating on Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades composed of elaborate costumes and masks, floats, marching bands, all organize by private “krewes” composed of public-spirited citizens dedicated to preserving the Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes tend to have a fairly constant structure of officers, who frequently ride horseback in handsome costumes and draped masks, float riders who chuck “throws,” or small gifts such as plastic beaded necklaces, toys, or mementos (usually with the krewe’s name and insignia) into the cheering crowds, and a guest “king” and “queen” of the krewe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also typically celebrated with formal balls held by the krewes in honor of the king and queen, and to celebrate the season.  Mask wearing among street celebrants is common as well. Traditionally, Mardi Gras masks are made of formed and painted leather, and can represent any character from real life or fantasy.  In modern practice, cheap masks mass manufactured of sequined cloth or paper maché covered in dyed feathers have become common.

This specific mask was hand made by a skilled artisan in the Finger Lakes region of New York and brought to New Orleans during Mardi Gras to be sold.



Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.

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TITLE: Commedia dell’Arte Brighella
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Brighella Mask
MAKER: Denis Durand
CEREMONY: Commedia dell’Arte; Carnival
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; elastic strap

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of public entertainment that succeeded the classical Roman theater in Italy.  Like classical theater, Commedia performers wore leather masks to represent stock characters and often performed in amphitheaters to large audiences.  However, the Commedia differed in having only a very basic plot sketch, with most of the lines invented extemporaneously by the actors.  The Commedia‘s ability to stay topical and its frequent resort to vulgar humor, combined with the considerable talent of Italian troupes that traveled throughout Europe, made this form of theater extremely popular throughout the early 17th to late 19th centuries. Masked actors had to compensate for their inability to convey facial emotion through posture, gesture, and vocal nuance.

Brighella was long among the most popular stock characters of the Commedia. Brighella was generally portrayed as an amoral opportunist. He could be a thief, a hustler, a jack-of-all-trades, and a layabout.  His mask was always represented with a cruel hooked nose or a slightly piggish rounded nose, and usually a beard and mustache.

This specific Brighella comes of unknown provenance. Based on its design, manufacture, and condition, it was probably made by a skilled Italian maker in the 1960s or 1970s.

To learn more about Commedia dell’Arte, see Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (Dover Pubs., 1966).

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