It's not very well-known about him, but Leonardo da Vinci's was a talented performer. He could play the flute and sing beautifully. He also loved joking around and telling riddles to his friends who often asked him to perform for them in the quiet of the evenings.
Da Vinci's own bottega in Milan, in the 1490s, was usually crowded with family and friends, fellow musicians and artists. Legend has it that when Leonardo was painting his famous work, Mona Lisa, he hired jugglers, clowns, and musicians to visit the studio and make his model for the painting smile.
Although this legend may not be true, it's a well-known fact that da Vinci loved to entertain others and be surrounded by entertainment.
In his appetite for entertainment, Leonardo was not alone. The time of the Renaissance was characterized by elaborate pageants and festivals that took place in large cities, and were often held on special occasions to honor ruling families.
Leonardo himself made many costumes and stage sets for such celebrations. His skill at creating life-like figures is said to have been unparalleled - he was very good at shaping exquisite masks to be worn at festivals, parties, parades, or balls.
Most of the masks Leonardo created were beautiful, but he also made masks that were grotesque some of which were downright scary.
For one festival, da Vinci made a mask with a helmet with spiraled horns, a serpent coming out of the top, and a dragon’s tail trailing down the wearer’s back. This particular mask was supposed to resemble a dragon sitting on top of the wearer's head.
Leonardo was also a funny character, he made masks such as the one shaped in the manner of an elephant head playing its own trunk like a clarinet.
But he also created wearable optical illusions: one mask resembled a strange kind of dog, but when it was turned upside down, it resembled a bat.
Il Paradiso: The Paradise Pageant
Leonardo was not only a huge mask maker, but also a great set designer. In 1490, he assisted in the presentation of a pageant to honor the marriage of the Duke of Milan’s nephew to Isabella of Aragon, a young woman who was so gorgeous, she “seemed like a sun.”
The pageant was called Il Paradiso - meaning Paradise, - and was held on a stage designed by da Vinci with actors dressed up the 7 (known) planets orbiting the stage, chanting poems in praise of Isabella’s beauty. The poems were easy to forget, but stage set and the costumes Leonardo designed have been remembered for centuries.
The stage was made to resemble the shape of an egg and covered completely it in gold. Lights were placed behind glass, which made them brighter and seem to glow. Around the top of the stage, da Vinci created a system of levers and pulleys that made the 12 signs of the zodiac move around their orbits in a way that looked like magic.
Leonardo attached sections of the set to winches holed up underneath the stage, that were rotated by hidden members of the production - so the audience thought the scenery was moving itself.
Supplies You'll Need
• gallon-size milk jug
• scissors or an Xacto knife
• permanent marker
• manila folder or cardstock for horns or ears, and tape
• bucket or bowl to mix and hold the papier-mâché
• unbleached flour, water, salt
• old newspaper
• paint and paintbrush
• glue and decorating materials like buttons, feathers, glitter, yarn for hair
• elastic and stapler
How to Make a Leonardo Masque Mask
- Cut the jug in half at the seam; use either side to make a mask, but the handle makes a good nose shape.
- Mark the eyes on the jug. If you’re using the side with the handle, putting eyes on either side of the handle creates a face-like image - the handle will look like a nose, with the top of the milk jug pointing toward the floor.
- If you want to make horns for your mask, roll two pieces of card stock or other stiff, rugged paper into cones and tape them securely onto the front of the milk jug. Papier-mâché is heavy and will crush cones made from regular paper.
- Create the papier-mâché paste by mixing one cup of flour, a little bit of salt, and two cups of warm water. The mix should have a consistency a little bit thinner than white glue.
- Cut newspaper into strips about 1 inch wide by 6 inches long. Once you start dipping the strips into the paste you’ll be up to your elbows in goop.
- Start the process by dipping the newspaper into the papier-mâché paste. Do the back of the mask first if you want to paint or decorate that side. Work in one direction, and make sure that all the milk jug surfaces get covered by at least one layer of paper.
- Move to the front of the mask, making sure to cover all surfaces. Make the surface as smooth as possible, and wipe off excess papier-mâché goop. Put the mask in a safe place to dry, for about 24 hours.
- When it is completely dry, paint the entire mask any color you’d like. White will cover up the newspaper and you can paint color on top of it.
- Allow the paint to dry, and then add other decorations - feathers, yarn, fake flowers, glitter, etc.
- Allow the entire mask to dry thoroughly again. In order to wear the mask, cut a piece of elastic long enough to go around the back of your head, with some extra to attach to the mask. Staple the elastic to your mask, about halfway up the jug.
Beth100 from Canada on February 05, 2012:
The history of Leonardo da Vinci has always been fascinating to me. You've reminded me of a facet of him that I had forgotten. :)
I will have to try the masks with my kids! They will love doing this!
Thanks and sharing with everyone!! :)
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 05, 2012:
This does sound like fun. Voting this Up and Useful.
wmhseo from Canada on February 05, 2012:
The painting looks very nice to me :-)
Nell Rose from England on February 04, 2012:
Hi, I never realised Da Vinci made masks, how did I miss that one? I love masks, I have 18 on my wall! Masque ball masks, mainly in the style of Italy or Venice. I love your idea for a mask, the kids will love it! rated up and shared! nell
Marissa from United States on February 04, 2012:
What a cool project! My husband, an artist, would love doing this with our kids. :)
Sondra from Neverland on January 23, 2012:
Oh wow - I had no idea! My kids will love making these masks and playing pretend for hours with them :)
jacqui2011 from Norfolk, UK on January 19, 2012:
This is one project that my daughter will love. I have bookmarked to do at a future date. Thanks for the idea. Voted up and useful.