Bali & Java

Old Javanese mask

Topeng character
Topeng character

Q:  This mask was found on a flee market in Amsterdam. It measures 17 to 15 cm and is of bright light wood. However, the back is darkened considerably, I don’t know whether by wearing or by paint. It shows heavy use, does not smell and has some old blackened worm holes. A part of it and the nose fell off several times and was glued back again. There is some repainting on the face. Those eyes glow considerably in the half dark. I guess it’s a Topeng character, but I do not know which one. What do you think? How old could it be? And how could it be worn so much if it has no holes for strings? Thanks.  Chris, 656

A: One can never be sure when looking at small photos, but I would guess this is an old, used mask. Of course, I too am puzzled by the lack of string holes or small nail holes to attach the strap. Identifying the character will be difficult because there are several dance dramas and they all have a number of different characters. The damage and poor repairs are a negative, but the mask still has considerable appeal.  B+


  • Nate

    I’ve been seeing lots of fake javanese masks come out of the netherlands in the last 6 months. An ebay search with find you several Netherland based dealers peddling the same. I’d bet that this is another. The eyes are sloppy.. so much so that most tourist trade Javanese masks are far better than this example. No holes and no small nail holes also attest to the fact that this is not ethnographic. The one or two examples I’ve ever found that were missing string holes or nail holes in the chin were fine examples, oversized, and clearly antiques. Patina in Guatemalan masks that have been worn for decades, never would be described “darkened considerably” this seems to imply that the entire reverse of the mask is uniformly darkened. The fact is, most used masks only have areas of the chin and forehead that make contact with the face. Sometimes the sides. But if you are seeing a mask that is uniformly darkened its a reg flag.

  • Chris

    Thank you Nate for the interesting comments…if it is a fake, it would be a very good one indeed – it remains thus a mistery, let’s keep it like that for now. Greets.

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