The relatively small but finely carved fierce-looking demon's mask, with two horns and opened mouth, the natural Schreger lines giving it an attractive look, with a nice patina and smooth touch.
H. approx. 3.2 cm
Private collection, United Kingdom
With us, pre-2021
The hannya (般若) mask is a mask used in Japanese Noh theatre, representing a jealous female demon. It is characterized by two sharp bull-like horns, metallic eyes, and a leering mouth.
The hannya mask is used in many Noh and kyōgen plays, as well as in Shinto ritual kagura dances. The mask portrays the souls of women who have become demons due to obsession or jealousy, similar to the Buddhist concept of a hungry ghost. Plays in which a person may wear the hannya mask include Aoi no Ue and Dōjōji; its use in these two plays, two of the most famous of the Noh repertoire, and its distinctive and frightening appearance make it one of the most recognizable Noh masks.
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 ability to change the expression of the mask through use of perspective is a feature commonly seen in Noh theatre. The oldest hannya mask is dated 1558.