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The Makeup Box

Theatrical Makeup Tools of the 19th-Century Actor

Author(s): Dorota Jarząbek-Wasyl
Subject(s): Theatre, Dance, Performing Arts
Published by: Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Keywords: theatrical makeup;19th-century theatre

Summary/Abstract: The nineteenth-century actor was the creator of his art, i.e. the role, in its entirety. The actors and actresses were responsible not only for the elocution they adopted, but also for the costumes and external transformation of their bodies they employed. The art of theatrical makeup, which encompasses makeup, hairdressing and the overall physical transformation of the actor’s body, is the subject matter of this article. The text commences with an analysis of the products used for theatrical makeup. While at the beginning of the 19th century, the typical makeup box of an actor had only three containers (for white face powder, rouge, and black), a hundred years later the artists of the stage could choose from a wide array of factory-made cosmetics, makeup and makeup removal products, supplied, for example, by the Leichner company in Germany. The course of typical and necessary treatment of the face is another matter. Beautifying cosmetic procedures were followed by sophisticated hairdressing, wig attachment and even elements of moulding and sculpting. Application of artificial noses, chins, cheeks, ears, foreheads, or bald spots was a mask-making technology of sorts. All these actions had ideological foundations; e.g. thick hair on a man was a cultural sign of elegance and seriousness, while a white feminine complexion signified delicacy and gracefulness of the fair sex. The way that face features of a character were modelled out relied not so much on empirical observation guided by an intention to “sculpt the man” from the outside as on the contemporary anthropological knowledge, a framework of aesthetic and axiological concepts that defined how human beings were perceived. Finally, there is yet another issue: the act by which the actor is putting on makeup before going onstage constitutes an ambiguous ritual with dangerous consequences.

  • Issue Year: 255/2015
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 143-179
  • Page Count: 37
  • Language: Polish