Ritual Lingzhi Fungus Mask
An extraordinary mask, probably 19th century, has been formed from a large, single Lingzhi fungus (Ganoderma Lucidum). The natural structure of the fungus has been coaxed into forming a nose, ears, a mouth and eyes. Two holes on either side allow for a natural twine to have been threaded through so that the mask can be either worn or hung for (perhaps) ritual display. The surface is hard, glossy and dramatically wrinkled. Restoration to cracks along the upper crest. 40 cm in diameter.
It is believed that such masks were worn ritually to frighten off malevolent spirits. Most extant fungus masks are of black (or blackened) Lingzhi fungus. Pannier (2009, p. 68) illustrates a mask translated as a ‘mushroom’ mask which appears to be made from a single fungus – possibly a Lingzhi – but coloured with red pigment.
Nepalese fungus masks are rare. Dating them is difficult. There are few in private or museum collections. The surface is glossy and encrusted with a varying patina suggesting some significant age. Possibly it was darkened with soot although there is no residual smokiness present.
The example here is in an excellent, stable condition with just the odd small loss to the extremities as might be expected. The texture is hard and robust rather than crumbly and friable. It has a wood-like consistency.
References: Pannier, F. (ed.), Masks of the Himalayas, 5 Continents, 2009.Provenance: acquired from Michael Backman Limited, London, May 6, 2015.