Tragic theatre mask made of terracotta

Roman, 1st-2nd century AD

This terracotta mask represents a female character from ancient tragedy. The smooth face and straight nose are in stark contrast to comic masks, which were often grotesquely distorted. Only the arched brows betray the heroine's emotion. The calm face is framed by an elaborate hairstyle of finely structured parallel plaits held by a ribbon over the centre of the forehead.

Much information on theatre masks and costumes is contained in a Greek lexicon (dictionary) compiled by the writer Pollux (lived about AD 170). Sometimes this allows us to identify surviving representations as specific characters.

It is unlikely that this mask was actually worn by an actor. Terracottas of this kind were often found as offerings in sanctuaries or tombs.

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More information


R. Green and E. Handley, Images of the Greek theatre (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the terracottas-1 (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1903)


Height: 8.500 inches

Museum number

GR 1873.8-20.568 (BM Cat Terracottas D55)


Purchased from the Castellani Collection


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