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Changing face: masks from the British Museum
Nō mask of a young woman
Nō theatre masks are the opportunity for very subtle expression in Japanese sculpture. The wooden masks are carved and then painted - in this particular case, the mask is whitened with crushed eggshell in an adhesive fluid. Finally, the hair and features are painted.
Present-day Japanese Nō performances adhere to the traditions established in the fourteenth and early fiftneenth centuries by the masters Kan'ami (1333-84) and his son Zeami (1363?-1443?). A number of standard masks are used in different dramas. A skilfully carved mask will appear to have subtle changes of expression depending on the way in which the wearer turns his head and the angle at which it is held. This is one of several variations of a young-woman mask based on an original design by Zeami, known as Zō-onna. The false eyebrows painted high on the forehead and the blackened teeth were fashionable cosmetic styles for over a thousand years until the late nineteenth century.