This muscovite (fuchsite) mask is carved in the shape of a human face. Pairs of holes can be seen on the forehead, chin, below the eyes, and in the sides. A massive drill was applied to the back to remove most of the stone until there was only a thin surface to be pierced by a small drill. The perforations were probably used to attach the work to cloth that was then wrapped around the head of someone performing a dance. Alternatively, the piece may have been donned by an individual participating in a special ceremony or placed directly in a burial. Considering this object’s small size, another explanation for its use is that it was attached to a belt or chest pendant.
The origin of the stone that was used to make this mask reveals the exchange network present during pre-Hispanic times in the Maya area. Muscovite is believed to come from the eastern highlands of Guatemala, near the Motagua River.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 12, cat. 51.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 251, cat. 116-A, pl. LXVI top.
Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd edition ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 259, cat. 116-A, pl. LXVI top.
Oettinger, Marion 1985 Dancing Faces: Mexican Masks in a Cultural Context. Meridian House International, Washington, D.C., p. 73, cat. 16.
Pillsbury, Joanne, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito and Alexandre Tokovinine (EDS.) 2012 Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Number 4. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 254-255, pl. 43, fig. 147.
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, August 1956 to July 1962.
"Dancing Faces: Mexican Masks In Cultural Context", Meridian House International, Washington DC, 2/15 - 4/15/1985.
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1956.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1956-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.