Object in Focus

An amazing find of an Elizabethan “visard” mask

Elizabethan Vizard Mask







This is a large Visard mask (also spelled ‘vizard’), worn by gentlewomen in the 16th and possibly into the early 17th centuries.

The mask was found during the renovation of an inner wall of a 16th-century stone building. The wall was approximately four feet thick, and the mask was found concealed within the inner hard core of the wall, which consisted of soil, straw and horse hair (for insulation). The mask was folded in half, lengthways, and placed within a small rectangular niche behind the face of the wall. Due to the conditions when found, the mask has an amount of soil and straw adhering to one half. The opposite half still has the velvet material in relatively good condition, but is in need of some conservation to prevent further damage.

The mask is oval and measures 195mm in length and 170mm in width. The eyes are lentoid, 30mm wide and 15mm high. The mouth is 48mm wide, widening in the centre to make a gap for the nose. The nose area is strengthened to stand out and form a case around the wearer’s nose. The mask weighs 32.4g (although this weight is inaccurate, due to the amount of soil and straw adhering to one side).

Read More


Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4


Image 5

Image 6


We would like to thank The Portable Antiquities Scheme for allowing us to use the information from: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/402520.


Cassidy,J (2010) NARC-151A67 A POST MEDIEVAL CLOTHING. Webpage available at:
http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/402520 [Accessed: 18 Jan 2011 15:22:02]

Related material

For more information about vizard masks including description, history, design and materials see:



Related visual sources:

"In this fashion noble women either ride or walk up and down"

A horseman with his wife in the saddle behind him

Doll's mask – Lady Clapham's mask, 1690-1700 (made), V & A, London

English lady in winter costume

Related textual sources:

  • An example of a textual appearance of the terms “mask”, “vizard” in an Early English text by Marston, John, The scourge of villanie Three bookes of satyres, 1598, can be seen below:

Her mask, her vizard, her loose-hanging gowne
For her loose lying body, her bright spangled crown
Her long slit sleeue, stiffe busk, puffe verdingall,
Is all that makes her thus angelicall.”

Marston, John, The scourge of villanie Three bookes of satyres, 1598 (source: English Books online, STC (2nd ed.) /17485, Pforzheimer, II:664. /[126] p., Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, STC / 433:16)
  • More examples of texts with the occurence of the term referring to the object of the mask can be found below:



Christoph Heyl, ‘The Metamorphosis of the mask in seventeenth and eighteenth century London’ in Efrat Tseelon, ed., Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality’, Routledge, London, 2001, pp. 114-134.
Christoph Heyl, “A Passion for Privacy. Untersuchungen zur Genese der buergerlichen Privatsphaere in London, 1660-1800″ (Munich, 2004), pp. 305-412.

Contribute to our knowledge

Have you encountered this object in your research? In your country? What is it called in your language?

Contribute to our knowledge section by sending us the following information using the form at the bottom of this page:

  1. more images of the object
  2. textual references to the object
  3. photographs or other illustrations showing the object in use
  4. any other information you may have about the object


Your Contributions


  1. Thepaut-Cabasset — February 22, 2011 at 16:13:271

    French Fashion Print, end of 17th Century, Bibliotheque Nationale de France. This is an engraving by Nicolas Arnoult entitled “Femme de qualite en habit d’hiver”. It shows a woman wearing a mask in her hand. Note: no right to use this image. Please contact the Paris Bibliothèque nationale de France for reproduction license.

    • Thepaut-Cabasset — March 23, 2011 at 15:05:412

      “Femme de qualité aux Tuileries”, Engraving by Jean Dieu de Saint-Jean, 1686. The woman is holding a fan in one hand and a mask in the other, to protect her face from the sun, or take a walk “incognito”?
      Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France. (No right to use this image. Lease contact the BnF for reproduction license).

  2. Jasmina — February 24, 2011 at 14:20:451

    Wenceslaus Hollar, Winter, an etching (signed and dated AD 1643)

    One of four etchings of the Seasons, each represented by a suitably clothed woman. The young woman is warmly dressed against the cold. She wears a number of skirts, a fur collar, a hood, a mask, and she carries a fur muff.

    To see the image and read more, please visit:


  3. Patrik Steorn — March 15, 2011 at 13:25:061

    18th Century Masquerade mask, supposedly worn by Gustaf III, king of Sweden. The mask is of red velvet with gold embroideries and probably represents a Solar God. The king was depicted as Apollo in a sculpture by J.T. Sergel in 1790.

  4. Patrik Steorn — March 16, 2011 at 10:25:261

    And finally a caricature attributed to Maarten de Vos, c.1600: The Vanity of Women: masks and bustles

    Text in French (and Dutch):
    Achepte dame masques & passement:
    Monstre vostre pauvre orgeuil hardiment.

    Orne moy avecq la masque laide orde et sale:
    Car laideur est en moy la beaute principale.

    Voy cy la boutiquel des enragez amours,
    De vanite, & d’orgeuil & d’autres tells tours:
    D’ont plusiers qui aprent la chair puante,
    S’en vont avecq les diables en la gehénne ardent.


  5. Christoph Heyl — March 23, 2011 at 09:48:321

    For a discussion of the development of masks in the context of changing attitudes to anonymity see:

    Heyl, Christoph, “A Passion for Privacy. Untersuchungen zur Genese der buergerlichen Privatsphaere in London, 1660-1800″ (Munich, 2004), pp. 305-412.

  6. Susan North — April 8, 2011 at 16:01:311

    I cam across the following two textual references that refer to the object of the mask:

    “As for Ladies, it is undecent to enter the Room of their Superiors in a Scarf, or with a Plaid, or with their Gowns tuck’d up, or in any careless Dress. Nor should their Courtesy be short or hurried, but grave and low. Nor is it civil to wear a Mask any where in Company of Superiors, unless they be travelling together in a Journey : And when in a Journey, if her Superior make his Honours to her, she is to pull off her Mask, and return him his Salute, if it be not tied on; and if it be fixt so as she cannot have it off in Time, then she is to make an handsome Excuse.”
    Adam Petrie, Rules of Good Deportment, 1720, 16

    A Comical View of London and Westminster
    “Thursday 31.] Young Barristers troop down to Westminster at Nine; cheapen Cravats, and Handkerchiefs, Ogle the Semstresses, take a Whet at the Dog, or a Slice of Roast-beef at Heaven, …Friday 1]. Great Preparations at the Bear-garden all Morning, for the noble Tryal of Skill that is to be play’d in the Afternoon. Seats fill’d and crowded by Two: Drums beat, Dogs yelp, Butchers and Foot-soldiers clatter their Sticks: At last the two Heroes, in their fine borrow’d Holland / Shirts, mount the Stage about Three; Cut large Collops out of one another, to divert the Mob, and make Work for the Surgeons: Smoaking, Swearing, Drinking, Thrusting, Justling, Elbowing, Sweating, Kicking, Cuffing, Stinking, all the whole the Company stays. Vizor-masque very busie in the Pit at Seven, in picking up a Cully, persuaded, with much ado, to accept of a Pint at the Rose, puts up the comfortable George among her Thimble, Nutmeg, and Brass Seal, in her Pocket; dispenses her favours in a Chair; which the Spark is sure to remember sometime next Week in a Stool. Law muzzled up this, and the Day following.”
    Thomas Brown, Legacy for the Ladies. Or Characters of the Women of the Age. With a Comical View of London and Westminster, 1705, 120-121

  7. Thepaut-Cabasset — July 15, 2011 at 17:03:121

    « Masque se dit aussi dans le sérieux d’une couverture que les femmes de condition mettent sur leur visage pour se garantir du hâle, ou même par modestie pour être moins vues. On tient que c’est Popea, la femme de Néron, qui inventa le masque pour conserver la délicatesse de son teint contre le soleil, & le hâle, vu que c’était la femme la plus curieuse de se parer qu’on ait jamais vu. On portait autrefois des masques carrés. Maintenant on porte des loups. Les masques de campagne sont fort grands ; ceux des villes sont fort petits. Le noir du velours des masques fait paraître davantage la blancheur de la gorge. Cette femme est belle sous le masque. », Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire universel de tous les mots français tant vieux que modernes, et les termes de toutes les sciences et les arts, La Haye, 1690, T. II.

  8. Maj Ringgaard — July 11, 2012 at 17:54:471

    A similar mask of plain-woven silk was found in excavations in Groningen, Holland in layers dating late 16th century. inv.nr 1990-VII-4.Describtion and depiction in Hanna Zimmerman(2007)’Textiel in context’ p.241

Bookmark & Share:

Follow Us:
Fashioning the Early Modern on Facebook