East Asia

Maiden mask from Korea

Q: I know you don’t choose more than a mask per person, but I have some doubt on this concubine Korean mask. It’s made of light wood and if you look at it from the front it seems to be old. She seems to have also a scar on her face maybe made to strengthen stage lights. But the rear makes me wonder. It looks new and has a red print. Could you please tell me something about it? Monica, 1509

A: Your mask is old and probably used briefly. It has been broken in half which will lower its value only a bit. Try to get a translation of the red letters on the rear for more info on this very desirable mask.

The character is called Kaksi (the young woman/bride). This Hahoetal mask represents a goddess in the first play of the cycle and a young bride in later episodes. It has a closed mouth and closed eyes, indicating that she is both shy and quiet. Her eyes are not symmetrical, and the mask is carved and painted to have long black hair. The mask is constructed from one solid piece of wood. There is a well made shawl and soft cord for holding in place while wearing in the play.

The villagers performed an exorcism allowing for their souls to be raised to the rank of local deity, and they were able to marry in the afterlife. The Hahoe Pyolshin-gut ritual ceremony was developed to honor them and console their tormented souls.


  • Chris

    The mask was clearly not broken, but the “split” has been applied by carving. I wonder why. Monica may be right in saying that it is for stage purposes. But if the mask is to portray a young woman, why the oldening scar? Anyway, the mask is antiqued, as the inside seems to be quite new wood. I doubt that it is old and that it has ever been used. As of value, I do not know much about Korean masks. It might deserve an A, so.

  • Bob Ibold

    Monica wrote:
    Of course I like your post but I’m sorry that I put you in such a thorny controversial situation (refers to Chris’s comment). Maybe the hanoe museum could tell something more, but I can’t contact them.

    My answer:
    Thanks Monica and Chris for your comments. I like controversy. Let’s see if one of our viewers can help solve these mysteries.

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