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Identification and Creation
Object Number
1956.21
Title
Theater Mask
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
mask, sculpture
Date
3rd century CE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Period
Roman Imperial period
Culture
Roman
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/291443
Location
Level 3, Room 3400, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Greece in Black and Orange
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Marble from Western Asia Minor
Technique
Carved
Dimensions
17.5 cm h x 27 cm w x 10.5 cm d
(6 7/8 in. h x 10 5/8 in. w x 4 1/8 in. d)
Provenance
Mr. C. Ruxton Love, Jr. (by 1956), gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1956.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mr. C. Ruxton Love, Jr.
Accession Year
1956
Object Number
1956.21
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
This fragmentary mask is over-life size and made of marble. Several features including the deep-set almond eyes, pointed nose, and stylized hair were created with a drill.
Commentary
Masks of this sort were popular forms of architectural decoration and could have been located in temples and theaters. Masks are also represented in domestic spaces, typically in a decorative medium such as painting or mosaic.

Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990
92

Tragic Mask

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

Publication History

Ancient Art in American Private Collections, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1954), no. 180A.

Thomas B. L. Webster, Monuments Illustrating Tragedy and Satyr Play, University of London (London, England, 1967), Supplement 20, p. 98, 1S14

David Gordon Mitten and Amy Brauer, Dialogue with Antiquity, The Curatorial Achievement of George M. A. Hanfmann, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1982), p. 15, no. 54.

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 106, no. 92

Exhibition History

Dialogue with Antiquity: The Curatorial Achievement of George M.A. Hanfmann, Fogg Art Museum, 05/07/1982 - 06/26/1982

Ancient Art in American Private Collections, Fogg Art Museum, 12/28/1954 - 02/15/1955

Roman Gallery Installation (long-term), Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/16/1999 - 01/20/2008

32Q: 3400 Greek, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 02/17/2017 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu