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The history of European masks begins in the late Paleolitic Age and continues during antiquity and the Middle Ages. This is attested by wall paintings, documents from antiquity and the diatribes of the Church Fathers. Today the mask is still used during winter festivals, often organised in the honour of a saint, on the occasion of carnivals celebrated before Lent and at rather punctual events (funerals, transhumance etc.) or in theatre performances (Commedia dell’Arte).

Even if each of them is unique, by taking a closer look, we can notice similarities between the European traditions, for example, concerning the characters (Bears, Goats, Horses, Devils etc.), the masquerades (fire, elements from agriculture, marriage etc.) and materials (fur, bells, straw etc.). Preferences for one or another of these elements are connected with the history, the landscape and the activities of the people living in the different regions: bells and fur for the shepherds, straw and masquerades inspired by agriculture in the case of the farmers, noble materials (feathers, mirrors etc.) used by the middle-class of the cities etc. Certain facts can also be explained by “import”: the masquerade of the Bear trainer has developed along the routes of the roving performers. A similar case is that of the characters of the Commedia dell’Arte which can be found in many different places.