El Dotor dea Peste – The Plague Doctor

plague doctor in venice

The Plague Doctor – The Italian Plague Mask

The Plague Doctor in Venice

The Plague Doctor in Venice: among the most bizarre Venetian Carnival masks, the Plague Doctor, the Italian Plague mask is the most recognisable thanks to the long nose which resembles the beak of a stork.

One of the major plagues in Venice was definitely the black plague, that struck the city on several occasions.

plague doctor in venice

This disease killed half the population of Venice during the two epidemics, which ravaged Europe in 1576 and in 1630. For this reason the mask of “Dotor Dea Peste” is not a real mask, but a disguise used by the “plague doctors”, that is those doctors who went to visit the patients suffering from the black plague.

The origins of this particular clothing dates back to the sixteenth century, when the French physician Charles de Lormar decided to oblige all physicians to wear these clothing during the times of pestilence.

The Plague Doctor’s Clothing

The clothing set consists of a long ankle-length black tunic of pure linen or waxed cloth, a pair of gloves, boots, a bonnet and a wide-brimmed hat and it is characterised by the typical white mask with the long hooked beak, which made the doctor resemble a stork or a gloomy vulture.

The mask was a kind of respirator with two openings for the eyes, two holes for the nose and a large curved beak, which contained different fragrances (dried flowers, lavender, thyme, myrrh, amber, mint leaves, camphor, clove and sponges soaked in vinegar), used to protect against infections and the foul smells of the sick.

The purpose of the mask was to take away the odor, back then considered the trigger of epidemics. Although it was totally useless, doctors were convinced that the aromatic substances contained in the mask would have preserved them from infection.

plague doctor in venice

Drawing of dottore della peste, Italian Plague Mask

The doctor also wore glasses to protect the eyes and a long stick, which doctors used to touch the patients without getting too close, to avoid becoming infected.

As soon as people saw the figure of the Dottor della Peste emerging among the calle, immediately images of death and horrible pain would come to mind.

The Plague Doctors in the Lazareto

Il dottor della Peste assisted those infected and suspected patients who had to remain in quarantine in the islands of Lazaretto Nuovo and the Lazaretto Vecchio.

plague doctor in venice

The lazareto

These islands are located in the Lagoon of Venice and in all probability they saved the lives of the rest of the population. The two islands were used as infirmaries and were under the charge of a secular prior.

The fumigation was carried out inside to try to destroy the plague and mass graves were used for those who had died by contracting the infection.

The plague was finally eradicated in the early ‘700.

The Plague Doctor Mask

It was then that during the wildest carnivals of the decadent Venetian Republic the Italian Plague mask began to be used for fun, rather than been used, as in previous centuries, as a means of protection.

Recalling its dire origins, the Venetians are still impressed to see the mask of the Plague Doctor during the carnival. For those who do not know the story, this mask is very bizarre, unusual and funny.

If you wish to purchase original hand made Italian Plague masks for Dottore della Peste, please visit my Venetian artisan friend site Maskerelle

plague doctor in venice

Mask for Dottore della peste by Maskerelle


Food & Travel Blogger, Culinary & Food Tour Guide, Cooking Consultant & Instructor - this is me....as well as an event organiser and overall talker - always in Venice! #aphotoofveniceaday Offering cooking lessons at http://www.cookinvenice.com As a friend once said: A Fire Cracker full of energy, not crazy but a visionary!

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