Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990
This larger than lifesized mask is broken at the top just above the eyebrows and, at the bottom, at the line of the upper lip; also on the left side, leaving only a slight amount of hair. The nose is slightly worn. Drill holes were used for the tear ducts and pupils of the eyes and in the hair. The hair is very stylized, arranged in rows with incised lines over the surfaces.
This type of mask appeared in various forms all over the Roman Empire, at Tralles in southern Lydia (Bieber, 1961a, p. 243, fig. 801), in a mosaic by Heraclitus in the Lateran (Bieber, 1961a, p. 243, fig. 802), and, in the third century A.D., in the theater at Ostia, where Herakles and bearded heroes are represented (Bieber, 1961a, p. 244, fig. 805). Wall paintings at Pompeii even show such masks of tragedy as state props (Bieber, 1961a, p. 228, fig. 762). A relief in the Villa Torlonia-Albani in Rome shows the intellectual implications of such a mask, for it appears on a table between two poets or playwrights who are contemplating it (Reinach, 1909-1912, III, p. 150, no. 4).
A mask similar to this, from a relief or possibly a free-standing monument, is set on what appears to be a tripod. It comes from the area of the Acropolis in Athens and is in the museum there (Walter, 1923, p. 212, no. 420, fig. 7). Another mask like the Harvard example is among a set of such decorative sculptures in Copenhagen. As has been pointed out by Frederik Poulsen, they come from Roman temples as well as theaters (Poulsen, 1951, pp. 252-253, under nos. 377-381, pl. 25). Also there is an example in a set from the Villa Altieri at Rome, now in Liverpool, and termed perhaps that of a young male character (Ashmole, 1929, p. 57, no. 134, pl. 46).
Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer