The strange bird-like look of the classic 17th century plague doctor mask, often seen during the Carnival Of Venice, has captured the imagination of artists who see it as equal parts creepy and visually compelling.
But did it have a practical function to match the eye pleasing form?
Here's the antiquated "science" behind the beaky shape of the mask:
The nose [is] half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the [herbs] enclosed further along in the beak. Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breeches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots, and a short sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breeches. The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin…with spectacles over the eyes.
The mask was but one element of the Plague Doctor's prescription costume, and the hat, coat, gloves and staff were equally important to keeping the doctor safe from sickness.