This Japanese antique wood Noh mask is made of the character of a Genji Warrior from the story Shunkan 俊寛 which originally dated to a Noh play of the 1600's, This mask was purchased from an estate in the U.S. and thought to date to the turn of the century portion of the Meiji period of 1868-1912. It is hand carved with great artistic detail of the facial parts and features and most likely made from cypress wood. He boasts large ears and a large nose, representing the appendages of one who is turning older. His wrinkles are deep, his eyebrows curve up and his mouth is drooping- just one of the characteristics of Shunkan, see more below about the character. His mouth is pursed his teeth are big. He is most likely made of oak. He is hand carved and his face is painted in brown, his eyebrows black, his teeth and eyes gold. The back is either painted or dry lacquered black as seen on many old wood masks, he is not signed. It has been prepared correctly for hanging. An opening of the eyes and mouth would mean this was designed for use in a play, Of course, he could also represent an old man with a mouth droop from a stroke. This is a fine old and unusual mask not often found on the market, a rare piece. it is in very good aged condition with no cracks; there is one chip of the lacquer on the back top and one of the back bottom of the ear, but no chips of the wood. There is some surface wear to the paint or possibly dry lacquer. It is a large mask. According to the paperwork on this piece, it is signed and I checked it again and do not find a signature, I will have Brent look.
SIZE: Height 9 1/2 in. or 24.13 cm, Width 7 3/8 in. or 18.73 cm, Depth 4 in. or 10.16 cm
A mask made for the play Shunkan and representing a warrior of the Murakami Genji line who at age 37 was exiled by Taira no Kiyomori along with two others to the island of Kikaigashima. When a reprieve arrives, he is elated, only to fall into bitter despair when he realises that he alone is to remain on the island unpardoned. Sadly, he watches his two companions sail back to the capital. Each of the five noh schools has its own rendition of the character, but all show a middle-aged man whose expression combines, the desolation of exile, the hopes of expected pardon, and the despair of being forsaken. While the Kanze version which was dated 1606 with an inscription reading Hie Gonnokami has a sour negativism in the drooping eyes and mouth, the shunkan mask bears a pained dignity with softened lines and broader features.
From the glopac website for the Japanese Performing Arts Center, see more there for complete information about Noh play and characters.
The following is from the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford in the U.K., I was not aware of the mask only being worn by the main character so cannot speak to this statement’s accuracy.
Stage props on the other hand, were hardly needed at all. More important than the costume was the Noh mask. Masks are only worn by the main character, his mask would stylise the person it represents and show them in a truer light than reality could do by depicting only the absolutely essential traits of character. There are five categories of Noh masks: gods, demons, men, women and the elderly.
The masks used in Noh theatre generally show a neutral expression so it is up to the skill of the actor to bring the mask to life through his acting. The parts are all acted by men, so the task of performing as a young woman is one of the most challenging for any actor. The masks are comparatively small and they only cover the front of the face having only small holes for eyes, nostrils and mouth.
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