Kijin'kei, Mask of a Fierce God, Noh Theatre, 19th century

Mask P

Title: Kijin'kei - Noh Mask of a Fierce God 
Date: 19th century
Size: 21.5 x 18 cm

Carved and painted hinoki (cypress). Polychrome pigments and gesso over wood. Eyes painted with gold pigment. Well-worn with external areas showing aged wood patina. Scratches throughout the surface. Pigment faded in a few areas. With fabric pouch.

Original Japanese antique.


Evolving under shogunate patronage from the 14th century, Noh theatre became an exclusive samurai pastime. In the Tokugawa period (1603 – 1868), commoners were forbidden to see it. Performed by male actors wearing masks, Noh dramas fall into five categories, plays about gods, women, insanity, revenge and demons.

Performed against a painted backdrop of a pine tree and with minimal props, Noh features lavish silk brocade costumes and exquisitely fashioned wooden masks. The masks are designed and crafted with great subtlety. They can appear to dramatically transform simply from the alterations of light and shadow as the actors move their heads. The pace is hypnotically slow, but the movement delivers great dramatic power.

Noh masks are carved from a single piece of wood painted with natural pigments. The mask represents age, gender and social ranking of human or nonhuman beings like animals, demons or divine creatures. The Noh mask is used to emphasize and stylize the facial expressions which are accompanied with adequate body language and movement in order to stimulate the imagination of Noh play audiences.

Kijin'kei (fierce god)

Before Buddhism was introduced to Japan over six centuries ago, Shinto was the main system of belief focused on ritual practice. On New Years Eve, it was believed that extreme changes in the climate may occur. Ceremonies were held to repel demons from shrines or temples, and this gradually became a custom among the people. Fierce god masks served two purposes: the first to portray the devil and create disasters or cause the plague, and secondly to ward off evil spirits.

More Information
Dimensions21.5 x 18 cm
SubjectGhosts & Religion
Product Date19th century