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Executioner’s Mask, Probably German 17th C

Executions of criminals, heretics, and political dissenters were common throughout medieval and renaissance Europe. Superstitions abounded during these times and many were associated with executions. It was feared that the evil of a criminal could pass on to others and so executioners were a societal pariah and avoided as much as possible by the general public. Executioners were both feared and shunned, forced to live in relative seclusion and provide for themselves. They always wore a mask or hood to conceal their appearance when performing a public execution. Since it was also believed that evil could be transmitted through the possessions of an executioner and the tools of his trade, surviving examples of hoods and masks are quite scarce. They were usually destroyed after they were no longer in use, though some have been preserved in museums and private collections as macabre souvenirs of the darker moments in human history.

Full-face mask of forged sheet iron with cut oval eye and mouth holes and integrally forged mustache. Separate riveted nose piece and jagged teeth. Tan linen hood, old but not the original. Iron with dark patina and moderate pitting. Several small holes rusted through on the nose piece. A very rare piece in very good complete condition. A similar example with mustache and goatee, but lacking the teeth, is preserved in the Kriminalmuseum in Rothenburg oDT, Germany.