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HOME : PRE COLUMBIAN ART : Pre-Columbian Art Collection/ HK : Teotihuacan Stone Mask
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Teotihuacan Stone Mask - PF.1377
Origin: Teotihuacan, Mexico
Circa: 100 AD to 300 AD
Dimensions: 6.25" (15.9cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Stone

Additional Information: Hong Kong

Location: UAE
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This exceptional mask is a supreme masterwork of the Teotihuacan group of the Mexico Basin, and dates to the first half of the first millennium AD. It is typical of the genre, with a gently pointed chin, a round-topped brow and curved cheeks. The structure of the face is deceptively simple, with finely arched brows, a long, slender nose and a slightly opened mouth. The contours of the face are perfectly positioned, executed and symmetrical. The eyes are raised-rim ovals, and detailing has been kept to a minimum, with drilled holes for the nostrils and ears. The entire face is a masterwork of contemplative serenity, which is made all the more remarkable if one considers the hardness of the stone and the basic array of tools and polishing techniques (usually involving sand and leather stropping) that were available at the time.

In its time Teotihuacan was the largest city in the Americas and was of supreme importance in the evolution of contemporary and later states such as the Mayas, Aztecs and the Veracruz group. They were particularly known for their architecture, which included several of the most imposing structures ever built by humans until well into the 19th and 20th centuries. The founding of the city (which was actually named Puh, for “Place of Reeds” by the Maya) took place in 200 BC and may have been the work of the Nahua, Totonac or Otomi people, who built other large city structures throughout Mexico in the Late Formative period. About five centuries after its founding the city contained around 100,000 people and covered over eleven square miles.

Most of our knowledge of these people comes from the assessment of stucco and paint murals (there is no writing at the site or elsewhere in the empire), which reached an apogee between 450 and 650 AD. By this time the city was at its most flamboyant, with enormous avenues, public buildings and pyramids. The layout is clearly designed for peaceful residence and the wielding of political power; military structures and defences are notably absent. It is instead noted for its phenomenal craft and art specialisation, notably in ceramics, metalwork and – for the current case – stone carving/polishing.

Teotihuacan pieces – and especially masks – are notable for the phenomenal care taken in their manufacture, and also for the incredible finish and symmetry of their execution. The number of hours required to make such a piece is indicative of the intended audience’s elite status, in addition to the fact that only the wealthiest and most highly stratified society could have sustained such an extreme specialist as he who produced this piece. The function of the masks is not fully understood, but there is some evidence that they were placed over the features of important personages upon their burial. Their weight precludes any possibility that they were worn during life. The identity of the people they are intended to represent is also unclear. They do not specifically resemble any of the characters on friezes, and it may be that they are a schematic evocation of a person or spirit without paying undue attention to their actual features.

Teotihuacan masks are among the world's greatest ancient art treasures, and the acquisition of any one of them would be a crowning achievement for any serious collection of Pre-Columbian art.

- (PF.1377)


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