skip to Main Content

. . . is for taotie

Gilt Bronze Taotie Mask

Overall height: 8.3 cm. (3 1/4 in.)
Width: 5.7 cm. (2 1/4 in.)

Western Han dynasty
2nd-1st century B.C.

Japan since 1950

This ancient bronze mask is thinly cast with its generous gilding still mostly intact. The plaque was possibly fashioned for attachment to a vessel or some sort of receptacle, the dangling ring providing either a functional or decorative handle. Such masks with ring handles are not uncommon on particular vessel types, for example the hu and zun popular during the Han period, but are also found on lacquer receptacles, on caskets constructed of wood or stone, and on chamber doors of subterranean tombs.

The persistence of popular motifs or images in Chinese art is nowhere better demonstrated than in the present type of ogre or monster mask which is commonly known as a taotie mask or face, meaning one that is “gluttonous and avaricious,” possibly as a warning against such vices. By the Bronze Age dynasties of the Shang and early Zhou the image had become ubiquitous but is believed to have had its origins in the Neolithic period. It has persisted over centuries and millennia in all media. Although numerous variations have been created, from geometric to more sinuously curvilinear renditions, and tailored to suit media, size, position, and space, the characteristic elements are invariably present and the frontal view is never compromised. It is always easily recognizable, even if presented in a dissolved or almost completely abstracted manifestation. Truly, if anything says “Chinese!” without words loudly, clearly, and without fail, it is the taotie mask.

Back To Top