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A fragmentary marble mask depicts the face of a person from mid-forehead to just below the nose.

A fragmentary marble mask depicts the face of a person from mid-forehead to just below the nose, with exaggeratedly large eyes and pupils represented by drilled out holes. The mask has a pointed nose and stylized ringlets of hair at either side of the face. The break at the top of the head is straight across. The break under the nose is uneven, leaving a larger area of the hair and cheek represented at left. The white marble has light brown stains all over.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Theater Mask
Work Type
mask, sculpture
3rd century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3400, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Greece in Black and Orange
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Physical Descriptions

Marble from Western Asia Minor
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)


Recorded Ownership History
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
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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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.
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

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

  • Ancient Art in American Private Collections, Fogg Art Museum, 12/28/1954 - 02/15/1955
  • Dialogue with Antiquity: The Curatorial Achievement of George M.A. Hanfmann, Fogg Art Museum, 05/07/1982 - 06/26/1982
  • 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

Verification Level

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