Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 09/04/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Art History

First Advisor

Johnson, Dorothy

First Committee Member

Bork, Robert

Second Committee Member

Adcock, Craig

Third Committee Member

Longfellow, Brenda

Fourth Committee Member

Scott, John B

Fifth Committee Member

Tachau, Katherine

Sixth Committee Member

Johns, Christopher M S


The act of wearing a mask, of concealing one’s identity, has been one of the most enticing but controversial cultural practices since the 1500s. Masking evoked an even bolder act of self-fashioning when enacted by the female sex, since the gesture came to be read as a materialization of the deceitful and duplicitous character of woman’s nature, proclaimed by the major state and religious institutions of the early modern era. The ubiquity of this cultural and religious trope, however, has overshadowed a parallel dimension of this phenomenon: women’s appropriation of masking as means to obtain cultural agency and public (in)visibility in the context of a number of sartorial, theatrical, and entertainment practices. How visual representations of female masking served both maskers and audiences to navigate the social, moral, and cultural implications of this reality constitutes the subject of the present study.

This dissertation explores the gendering of the act of (un)masking and its dissemination in visual culture during the early modern period in England, looking at four different cultural and chronological settings: the Carnival, the Stuart court masque, the Restoration urban space, and the Georgian masquerade. Through the examination of women’s uses of masks and their artistic representations in these different contexts, the author argues that the iconography of the (un)masked woman not only pervaded contemporary imagery, but also acted as a primary vehicle to comment on, formulate, and negotiate models of femininity throughout the early modern period. As this was a quintessential form of self-fashioning, central to a number of pageants, entertainments, and rituals, the analysis of women’s masking and its depictions reveals the core of early modern attitudes to power, gender, and class, in both the public and private realms. In order to flesh out such ideological discourses, this study considers a wide range of visual depictions and cultural practices, including drawings, prints, paintings, ephemera, costumes, fashion accessories, cosmetic customs, and architectural settings. In methodological terms, this dissertation applies an interdisciplinary, feminist, and art-historical perspective to the study of early modern masking in England, engaging at the same time with a number of interpretative tools from the fields of the history of costume, dance, theatre, and literature.


Early modern England, Mask, Masque, Masquerade, Visual culture, Women


xxvii, 284 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 268-284).


Copyright © 2019 Sandra Gómez Todó

Available for download on Saturday, September 04, 2021