Iron mask, German, 1601-1700
This grotesque mask is believed to have been worn by prisoners being led to their executions in Nuremburg, Germany, during the 1600s. It was presumably intended to bring further distress and humiliation to a terrified individual. Masks were also often worn by executioners to hide their identity. There are fewer historical references to prisoners wearing masks. One exception is a French prisoner immortalised in The Man in the Iron Mask by author Alexander Dumas (1802-1870). The prisoner was reputedly held for over 30 years and never allowed to remove his iron mask.
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A covering worn on or held in front of the face for disguise, to amuse, terrify or to symbolise.
Glossary: capital punishment