Zo'onna, Noh Mask of a Woman, 19th century

Mask Y

Title: Zo'onna - Noh Mask of a Woman 
Date: 19th century 
Size: 20 x 14 cm

Carved and painted hinoki (cypress). Polychrome pigments and gesso over wood. Well-worn with external areas showing aged wood patina. Some scratches that have been restored on the chin. Seal on the back and the number '34' written in gold, with another note taped next to it. 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.


Zo'onna represents a slightly older woman of composed demeanour. Her features are neat, without a hair out of place, and those at the hairline are rendered with great precision. The edges of her mouth are slightly downturned, giving her a slightly sorrowful look. A mask of sublime and sacred aura, Zo-onna appears often in roles such as goddesses, bodhisattvas and celestial maidens.

More Information
Dimensions20 x 14 cm
SubjectBeauty & Female
Product Date19th century