Theater Mask

Bronze Roman Mask
300 – 200 BCE (Hellenistic), Greece
Material: bronze
Size: 18.1 x 16.5 cm
Unknown Artist

This artifact is a bronze copy of a round theater mask. Theater masks were originally molded out of lighter, more perishable material, such as linen and paste. However, it is unlikely that this mask had a functional, theatrical use, but rather it is likely that it served for more decorative purposes. This is evidenced by the fact that the mask is not the size of a human face- it is, in fact, much smaller. It also does not have holes on the side of its frame to be pinned to a face, but it does have two holes at the bottom of the mask- suggesting that it could be pinned to a wall. It is also important to note that the material of this artifact was bronze, a heavy material, indicating that it was not meant to be worn, and it is nonperishable, possibly to withstand the outdoors if it was placed in a garden. Before the oxidation seen on this object occurred, the original bronze color was reminiscent of tanned human skin.

Example of ancient Roman theater

The theatre mask was a staple to Greek and Roman theatre. This gave the actors their identity during their performances. It also allowed one person to play multiple roles in one show. The masks were predominantly used by actors. The theater mask was a popular devices in theatrical performances as it conveyed emotion to far-away audiences in the amphitheater. The theater mask portrayed very expressive faces in order to emphasis the emotions being shown.

The mask is used to display an expression of emotion, the carving of these features into stone helps convey the emotion the actor aims to express. The mask is fashioned as to show a look of shock, surprise or awe, as seen by the gaping mouth and wide eyes. It can be assumed that from the short hair and masculine features that the mask was meant to portray a male.

The importance of this mask in Greek society was so the actor could express emotion and create a character for audiences. Theater in Greek culture was an extraordinarily important and was a primary source of entertainment. It was seen as a way of investigating further into the world they lived and the meaning of humanity. The Romans had a tendency to adopt greek traditions and artifacts into their own culture. In this case, the inclusion of theater masks in a domestic sphere, highlights the Roman admiration for Greek plays and an attempt to create a theater-like environment for the home. Masks were often utilized as a form of decoration in houses, garlands, or gardens to bring elements of the theater into a domestic space. Later on, they even began to be incorporated in Roman paintings.  

Example of Mask in Garden Setting
Example of Mask in Decorative Setting

The importance of this mask in Greek society was so the actor could express emotion and create a character for audiences. Theater in Greek culture was extraordinarily important and was a primary source of entertainment. It was seen as a way of investigating further into the world they lived and the meaning of humanity. The Romans had a tendency to adopt greek traditions and artifacts into their own culture. In this case, the inclusion of theater masks in a domestic sphere highlights the Roman admiration for Greek plays and an attempt to create a theater-like environment for the home. Masks were often utilized as a form of decoration in houses, garlands, or gardens to bring elements of the theater into a domestic space. Later on, they even began to be incorporated in Roman paintings.  

Example of Mask in Roman painting

In this particular case, the mask could possibly be depicting a Gorgoneion, which were seen as masks in themselves. Gorgoneions are apotropaic symbols characterized by a wide open mouth, forward facing eyes, and a snub nose. This particular mask of a frowned Gorgon, found near a sanctuary of Dionysus, is of importance because it may have been an offering to the God. In a Roman context, the Gorgoneion became somewhat ubiquitous, and rather than being tied to one myth, began to a recognizable symbolize a protector of the home.

Mask of Satyr 200-100 BC