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Plague Doctor
This costume, the plague doctor, was French in origin, stemming from an idea of Charles de Lorme, a French doctor. The plague itself was a tragically regular visitor to the city and there were only two known methods of keeping it from the door.

One was the building of votive churches such as the Redentore and Santa Maria della Salute, the other was the organisation of medical facilities that, as yet, were less than adequate.


Medical texts from the fourteenth century on recommend a special kind of dress for doctors who had to expose themselves to this terrible in infectious disease. The Venetian doctor Troilo Lancia, in the terrible plague of 1630, writes that some doctors put on a “peculiar costume” which could well be like the one in Grevembroch's picture. The tunic was made of linen or waxed canvas so that infectious vapours could not pass through to the clothes. The little stick served for lifting the blankets without having to touch them.

Further protection was sought in the cape, the glasses and the hooked "beak" stuffed with disinfectant substances, and all of which combined to make this man of science into a kind of large and lugubrious bird comparable with the old sorcerers who took upon themselves the very ugliness of the evil that was to be chased away.

This, then, is not a Carnival costume but rather a terrifying symbolic warning of a fatal epidemic fever all too recurrent in a city port like Venice. Carnival, however, took up this awful symbol of death almost to hush its own conscience. This was -.and is - a way of fixing transient, and hopefully improbable, situations in history, in such a way that laughter has at least the obligation to drive out fear.

 
 
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