AskDefine | Define mantilla

Dictionary Definition



1 a woman's silk or lace scarf
2 short cape worn by women [syn: mantelet]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Spanish lace veil worn over a woman's hair and shoulders.

Extensive Definition

A mantilla is "a lightweight lace or silk scarf worn over the head and shoulders, often over a high comb, by women in Spain and Latin America" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000).
Etymology: Spanish, diminutive of manta, cape.


The lightweight ornamental mantilla came into use in the warmer regions of Spain towards the end of the sixteenth century, and ones made of lace became popular with women in the 17th and 18th centuries being depicted most notably in the portraits of Diego Velázquez and Goya. In the nineteenth century, Queen Isabel II (1833-1868) actively encouraged its use. The practice diminished after her death, and by 1900 the use of the mantilla became largely limited to special ceremonies, such as bullfights, Holy Week and weddings.


A Peineta similar in appearance to a large comb is used to hold up a mantilla. This ornamental comb, usually in tortoiseshell color, originated in the XIX century. It consists of a convex body and a set of prongs and is often used in conjunction with the mantilla. It adds the illusion of extra height to the wearer and also holds the hair in place when worn during weddings, processions and dance. It is a consistent element of some regional costumes of Valencia and Andalusia and it is also often found in costumes used in the Moorish and Gypsy influenced music and dance called Flamenco.

Usage in the Vatican

Perhaps due to the promotion of the mantilla by Queen Isabel II, it became traditional for ladies to wear a mantilla when received in audience by the Pope, though other head coverings for women prevailed before it and for a time after it. In the second half of the twentieth century its use declined markedly, though it is not completely out of use.
Irish presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, Soviet Union First Lady Raisa Gorbachev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel all met popes without wearing mantillas. Queen Sofía of Spain, as a Catholic Queen, exercised a royal privilege known as Privilège du blanc, an entitlement to wear white instead of black. At the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI and the Requiem Mass for John Paul II, she and Queen Paola of Belgium wore a white and a black mantilla respectively.
In 1997 Mary Robinson's decision not to wear a mantilla and to wear dark green rather than black, was condemned by a controversial Irish Catholic priest then studying in Rome, the Holy See indicated that no offence whatsoever was caused by her decision.
In more recent times Laura Bush while visiting the Holy See in 2006 and the members of Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg during inauguration festivities wore mantillas.
mantilla in Czech: Mantila
mantilla in German: Mantilla
mantilla in Spanish: Mantilla
mantilla in French: Mantille
mantilla in Russian: Мантилья
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