HUMAN MASK

TEOTIHUACAN - Mexico

450-750 AD

Height : 20.5 cm – Width : 17 cm – Depth : 9.7 cm

White, beige and green translucent alabaster

Provenance

Former collection Yvon Collet since 1967

Galerie Mermoz Collection since 2015

 

This beautiful mask is a testimony to the refinement of Teotihuacan's art and the degree of excellence achieved by its sculptors in human representation. The proportions are true and harmonious, the features balanced and the facial elements faithfully reproduced. The alabaster used for its manufacture gives it an evanescent character over which time seems to have no control. This idealisation is one of the characteristics of the " Teotihuacán faces", which undoubtedly owed its greatness to the power of its gods and priests, whose masks were probably flattering representations and the perfect expression of the values of the sanctuary.

A symbol of this immense ceremonial city, established in the central highlands, they have been found throughout Mesoamerica, confirming the very extensive influence it exerted at its height. Beyond the care taken in their physiognomy, their importance is revealed by the quality and beauty of the stones used to make them, varieties that were not present in the immediate environment of the sanctuary.

In order to obtain them, the people of Teotihuacán had to travel far, especially to Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico, and to the central region of Puebla. These efforts indicate that these rocks, which are of a very particular colour, becoming shiny or satin-like under the effect of intense polishing, obviously had a sacred meaning, from which the masks undoubtedly drew their power.

In accordance with the canons that seem to be in force, judging by the relative uniformity of the Teotihuacán masks, the eyes are large, elongated and well aligned, with beautiful eyelids in relief, the whole surmounted by eyebrow arches stretching to the temples. The nose is strong and scrupulously shaped. The graceful cheeks have slightly protruding cheekbones and the wide-open mouth has perfectly shaped full lips.

The eye and mouth cavities are hollowed out, indicating that they once contained items made of shell, mother-of-pearl or various gemstones (e.g. obsidian, turquoise, pyrite, hematite), representing the eyes and teeth, and greatly enhancing the magnetism of the face. Careful observation reveals circular perforations at each corner of the eyes and mouth, in which material was probably placed to seal these inlays.

The forehead is short and flattened, perhaps to allow a headdress to be placed on it, which has now disappeared, like the figures visible in the murals of Teotihuacán, wearing plumes of feathers. The nose and ears were also to be decorated with ornaments, which explains the piercing of the nostrils and lobes.

The precise function of these purified masks, which in their time were intended to fulfil a major ritual and ceremonial role, is unknown. Their weight, the absence of any perforation in the eyes and mouth and their often flattened reverse side, indicate that they were not worn during processions or parades. On the other hand, the holes above the ears on the temples were probably used to attach them to a support.

They were long imagined to be placed on burial bundles, in order to perpetuate the living image of a powerful priest or dignitary, but mummification was not a Mesoamerican practice and was more observed in the Andes, where the dry climate was favourable to the preservation of embalmed remains.