Mixtec, from southern Puebla
1200 – 1521 CE
Wood, stone, shell, pigment
Height: 11 ¼ inches (28.6 cm)
Width: 9 ¼ inches (23.5 cm)

Exhibited: Brooklyn Museum, Jay C. Leff Exhibit (1966 – 1967) {1958/1960?}
Published: Ancient Art of Latin America From the Collection of Jay C. Leff [The Brooklyn Museum] (Nov 22, 1966 – March 5, 1967) No. 429, p. 96, photograph on p. 97
Provenance: Jay C. Leff, Private Spanish collection, Edward H. Merrin Gallery


Masks have been used for millennia around the world with the function of giving a new identity to the wearer, housing the identity of the person or supernatural entity it is meant to represent, or both. Coming in many different shapes and sizes, appropriate for each of many different identities and guises, the most commonly found Mesoamerican masks were created with a base of wood, stone, leather, or bone, and decorated with techniques unique to the cultures creating them. The Mixtec were particularly skilled in using mosaic tiles of turquoise, stone, and shell to create patterns representing the gods. This wide-eyed mask of Tlaloc was once similarly adorned, however time and weathering have taken their toll on the delicate materials. Wood resin was used as an adhesive and has kept several mosaic pieces in place to this today, notably beneath the left eye and across the forehead.

This Tlaloc mask is carved of a light wood and makes use of pigment as well as stone to emphasize the large eyes cut into the mask. Dark pigment remains in the large brows over the eyes, and a lighter pigment covers the rest of the mask. The open space of the mouth and left side of the nose are stained a bright sienna. The mouth is indicated by a rectangular hole cut into the appropriate location in the mask; the incised wooden bar above it held white shell in the shape of teeth held there by wood resin. The British Museum’s mask of Tlaloc/Quetzalcoatl has a similar mouth opening and wooden bar that still retains a number of its white shell teeth.

Given the large eyes and the shape of the mask it can be postulated that this mask represents the rain god Tlaloc, celebrated for his life giving rains and feared for his ability to send hail, thunder, and lightning.



References: The British Museum Mosaic Mask of Quetzalcoatl [Museum No. Am1987, Q.3]