MASK (Fr. masque, apparently from med. Lat. mascus, masca, spectre, through Ital. maschera, Span, mascara), a covering for the face, taking various forms, used either as a protective screen or as a disguise. In the latter sense masks are mostly associated with the artificial faces worn by actors in dramatic representations, or assumed for exciting terror (e.g. in savage rites). The spelling " masque," representing the same word, is now in English used more specially for certain varieties of drama in which masks were originally worn (see DRAMA); so also " masquerade," particularly in the sense of a masked ball or an entertainment where the personages are disguised. Both " mask " and " masquerade " have naturally passed into figurative and technical meanings, the former especially for various senses of face and head (head of a fox, grotesque faces in sculpture), or as equivalent to " cloak " or " screen " (as in fortification or other military uses, fencing, etc.). And in the case of " death-masks " the term is employed for the portraitcasts, generally of plaster or metallic foil, taken from the face of a dead person (also similarly from the living), an ancient practice of considerable interest in art. An interesting collection made by Laurence Hutton (see his Portraits in Plaster, 1894), is at Princeton University in the United States. (For the historical mystery of the " man in the iron mask," see IRON MASK.)
The ancient Greek and Roman masks worn by their actors hollow figures of heads had the double object of identifying the performers with the characters assumed, and of increasing the power of the voice by means of metallic mouthpieces. They were derived like the drama from the rural religious festivities, the wearing of mock faces or beards being a primitive custom, connected no doubt with many early types of folk-lore and religion. The use of the dramatic mask was evolved in the later theatre through the mimes and the Italian popular comedy into pantomime; and the masquerade similarly came from Italy, where the domino was introduced from Venice. The domino (originally apparently an ecclesiastical garment) was a loose cloak with a small half-mask worn at masquerades and costume-balls by persons not otherwise dressed in character; and the word is applied also to the person wearing it.
See generally Altmann, Die Masken der Schauspieler (1875; new ed., 1896); and Dale, Masks, Labrets and Certain Aboriginal Customs (1885) ; also DRAMA.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)