Handle with theatre mask decoration

A bronze handle coming from a bronze jug or oenochoe, and which enabled it to be lifted easily. It was made by the lost-wax technique. The handle descended from the neck of the vessel, now lost, to its shoulder. The upper section has a decoration in relief of a band divided in three strips. In the lower area a theatre mask with a gaping open mouth has been modelled.

Masks could be decorated with erotic scenes, with gladiators, mythological figures and floral motifs. These lamps became very popular as they could be collected and were relatively cheap. They were turned out in masse using moulds rather than being hand crafted.

Ethnologists place the origin of masks at the time of the birth of self-consciousness. Their use goes back far in antiquity and they can be found in use among the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The Greeks used them in Dionysian festivals, the Romans during the lupercalia and saturnalia festivals and other theatrical representations.

Among the Greeks and Romans, masks were a sort of helmet that entirely covered the head. As well as displaying very marked facial features, they had hair, ears and beards. The Greeks were the first to use them in theatres so that the actors could resemble physically the characters whose roles they were playing. Ritual festivals gave way to theatrical representations which set a distance between the theatrical character and the masked actor.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out through expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To release the final piece the mould must be removed.

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