Met curator Joanne Pillsbury on immortality in Mask, 10th–6th century B.C.E., by the Olmec peoples of ancient Mexico.
Depicting a typical Olmec face with slanted, almond-shaped eyes and a toothless, slightly downturned mouth, this mask is rendered with simplicity and elegance. Its harmonious proportions are indicative of the sophistication attained by Olmec sculptors. The smooth, highly polished planes of cheek, forehead, and chin plus the almost fleshy quality of the nose and parted lips belie the incredible hardness of the jadeite cobble from which the mask was made. The face itself is neither human nor supernatural but, rather, an idealized type that incorporates otherworldly aspects—such as the mouth, with its reference to the so-called were-jaguar, a powerful mythic being with human and jaguar traits.
Masks of this size in stone have not been excavated in archaeological sites and it is difficult to determine their function. Lacking holes for eyes and nose, it could not have been worn over a living face, but there are attachment holes along the edges by means of which it might have been used as a costume element or adhered as a face to a mummy or a sacred bundle. There is a polished, circular depression on the back of the mask.
View this work on metmuseum.org.Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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- At1:37, when she was talking about the "toothless gum," couldn't those indents inside the mouth have been places were there was some type of white stone that were supposed to be teeth?(14 votes)
- I think the gums of the mask are far larger than those of real humans -- maybe that was what she was referring to. Or maybe she forgot about the inlay when she compared it to an infant :)(3 votes)
- What is the basis for the caption saying "Lacking holes for eyes and nose, it could not have been worn over a living face"? The narrator also says this at0:41. I totally disagree! Of course it could have been worn! By a dancer or in a procession or even by a static extra in a stage play just standing in place, a mask does NOT require holes for eyes and/or nose to be worn by a living face/person. Someone cannot breath through the space between the mask and the face around the sides of the head?(1 vote)
- The masks might have been carried, the way some Greek actors' masks were, and held in front of the face at certain times. They might have been used in parades or ceremonies, or maybe even in plays of some sort.(3 votes)
- If not made for just wanting to make a mysterious art piece, could this mask have been used for something? For example, a special event or so?(2 votes)
- Why do so many of the curators and analyzers of art all talk in that same way. Are they trying to portray that they are sophisticated?(1 vote)
- art curators go to collage probably as much as a doctor and follow studies in many many areas such as anthropology, archaeology, art, art history, studies of peoples, tribes & their history, Plus they're kind of a managerial type person.(2 votes)
- my first time being here but I have 30 days left to be here im in school and im doing history :)(0 votes)