Schandmaskes: masks of shame

In Europe the Mask of Shame, known in Germany as the Schandmaske, was a punishment used to moderate social misbehaviour. Being padlocked into a mask that by design revealed the shortcomings of the miscreant forced to wear it, would have been a strong disincentive to any behaviour that might incur the disapprobation of neighbours and community.

Grotesquely elongated tongues indicated tell-tales or gossips. Exaggerated ears and spectacles warned of nosy persons who heard and saw everything. The masks are often demonic in appearance, which might indicate an ill-disposed nature. Others take the form of animals, such as dogs and pigs.

The idea was fairly straight forward; to expose and to punish by ridicule. If the number and diversity of surviving Schandmaskes is anything to go by, then from the middle ages to the eighteenth century the punishment was relatively commonplace in mainland Europe. As well as being used against gossips, it was a punishment for women accused of hen-pecking their husbands. (In Britain there was the similar tradition of the ‘scold’s bridle, examples of which show that the wearer’s tongue was ‘stilled’ by an internal plate that forcibly held it down.)

Though the barbarity of the Schandmaske tradition repels modern sensibilities, the smithing-skills of the makers can’t be denied. While it’s not possible to separate form from what we know to have been the function of these masks, in design terms alone they are incredibly imaginative and visually arresting.

Mask Week at the Artlog

In the past we’ve had dedicated weeks at the Artlog celebrating maquettes and puppets, and I plan further explorations of those themes. However, following on from my recent posts about the grass-mask by maker Phil Clarke, I’m preparing a week-long celebration of masks, and it kicks off tomorrow with one of the more sinister manifestations of the mask-maker’s art, the Schandmaske.