CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Iron Masks of Shame

2 minute read

 

IRON SCOLD'S BRIDLE #30-6463 Known to the English as a Scold’s Bridle and the Germans as a Schandmaske (Mask of Shame), this macabre artifact represents the ultimate in humiliation and social punishment. Most commonly inflicted on women, the “Scold’s Bridle” earned its name because it was first used on those who too often scolded, or nagged, their husbands and neighbors. The punishment, however, soon extended to other “sins,” and the mask’s form developed into a symbolic reflection of the very crime it punished. With its elongated, protruding tongue and oversized donkey ears, the present example would have been inflicted on those guilty of gossiping and spying. It would have sent a clear message about the offenses of its wearer, who was often forced to walk through town as part of the ritual of social humiliation. This example even features a bell at its apex, which would have drawn further attention to the spectacle. 20th century , 18" high x 9 3/4" wide x 11" deep

WOLF HEAD IRON MASK #30-6464 Representing a macabre and bizarre form of punishment from the Middle Ages, this sinister iron mask takes the form of a sharp-tooth wolf. Resembling a muzzle, these devices are known as shame masks and emerged as a popular tool of public shame and humiliation to punish non-violent offenses. Though some were simply formed into the shape of a cage, brank masks were more often crafted into a shape that symbolized the nature of one’s crime. Grotesque faces with elongated tongues represented a gossip, while pig snouts indicated poor hygiene. The present example takes the shape of a sharp-toothed wolf’s head. While most shame masks of the period were intended as punishment for women, the wolf head was most often used on men, particularly those whose language was vulgar or abusive. 20th Century, 9 1/2" high x 11 1/2" wide x 9" deep

IRON SKULL CRUSHER #30-6465 While most iron masks of the Middle Ages were crafted with shame and humiliation in mind, this example represents a more sinister mode of punishment. The macabre collector’s piece is crafted in the style of a 16th-century skull crusher, one of the most gruesome tools in a torturer’s arsenal. The head cage is formed from wrought-iron straps that can be locked at the neck to keep the mask in place. The two thumbscrews positioned at the temple serve a simple, but incredibly effective purpose. A twist of the handles causes the screws to tighten, causing unbearable pressure on the victim’s temples. The moniker “skull crusher” is well earned, as the device is capable of causing extensive – and often lethal – damage.

With the spread of the Enlightenment during the 18th century, such gruesome torture techniques slowly fell out of practice, though revivals such as the present piece serve as a lasting reminder of the brutal practice. Period examples of varying forms can be found in museum collections around the world, including the Torture Museum in Amsterdam and the Märkisches Museum in Berlin.

 

 

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