Three Noh Theater Masks
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Three original Taisho period (early 20th-century) Japanese Noh theater masks in carved wood and lacquer, including:
A dark brown stylized face with a lightly furrowed brow, wide nose, and bared upper teeth. Chips in the wood and lacquer, including to the right eye, nose, and along the edges, particularly the chin. Christie's label affixed to rear. 7 inches tall.
A stylized male face with two cord tassels above the eyes, a hinged mouth attached with further tassels, and a thin beard of hairs attached to the chin. Carved signature to the back of the mask. The lacquer with some scattered cracks and chips, most clustered on the tip of the nose; generally soiled, some loss to the beard hair. Christie's label affixed to rear. 7.5 inches tall. Evidently of the "old man" category of Noh masks, which are used in Okina plays, in the tradition of a sacred ritual, often performed at the New Year to pray for peace.
A stylized face with furrowed eyebrows and a downturned mouth, with black hair attached at both temples. Some cracks through the lacquer, some loss to the lacquer, including the bridge and tip of the nose, some overpainting. 7.5 inches tall.
Noh masks have long been an integral part of Japan's religious rituals, festivals and theatre. They represent historical figures and spirits referred to as kami, which have their origins in Japan's indigenous beliefs. Traditionally, the mask symbolised 'possession', transforming the wearer into the kami or its human incarnation.
Noh, derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent," is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. The art form integrates masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are primarily conveyed by stylized conventional gestures, while the iconic masks represent the roles such as ghosts, women, children, and the elderly.
Masks are central to Noh, and are understood to belong to certain basic types. The original ca. 60 types of masks, developed in the 15th to 16th centuries, have grown to more than 200 today. Noh artists often feel that the masks grant them a special power as performers, allowing them to "become" the characters. The present mask, with its dark color, appears to us to belong to the Kishin or "demon" category of masks.