Hannya, Noh Theatre Mask of a Woman Turned into Demon, 20th century

Mask I

Title: Han’nya (noh mask of a woman turned into demon)
Artist: Tanaka
Date: 20th century
Size: 21.5 x 17.5 cm; Horns length: 10.5 cm

Carved and painted hinoki (cypress). Polychrome pigments and gesso over wood. Eyes and teeth painted with gold pigment. Well-worn with external areas showing aged wood patina. Scratches throughout the surface. Pigment chipped in a few areas. Seal on the back. 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.


Hannya is perhaps one of the most recognisable character from Japanese theatre, due in part to the spectacular mask that depicts her, with its sharp horns, inhuman and aggressive look, teeth-filled mouth and gold covered fangs. The mask is used on stage to give life to female characters: elegant and beautiful women who are betrayed by their lover and driven by obsession and jealousy are transformed into demons.

The Hannya mask is said to be demonic and dangerous but also sorrowful and tormented, displaying the complexity of human emotions. When the actor looks straight ahead, the mask appears frightening and angry. When tilted slightly down, the face of the demon appears to be sorrowful, as though crying. The different colours of a Hannya mask represent the different standings of the character: a white mask means a woman of refined character, red is for those who are a little less refined, while the darkest of reds is reserved for the most evil of all demons – a woman who has lost complete control of her jealousy.

More Information
Dimensions21.5 x 17.5 cm; Horns length: 10.5 cm
SubjectGhosts & Religion
Product Date20th century