The famous Pedro Alvarado

Q: Mask is 11″ tall, 6.5 ” wide, 5″ deep. It appears that it may be a mask of Spanish General Pedro Alvarado. My father, who was an Army Chaplain in WW2 stationed in Panama Canal Zone, obtained it on his circuit travels to Guatemala. It has been in storage for decades and is in excellent condition. It has the initials “D.M.J(or I).C” written inside (visible in rear photo). I have a closeup photo of the initials but you only allow 3 to be sent.

A: I urge people to send in a front, side and rear view of their Mystery Mask. A forth shot of an important detail is always welcome. This mask is of a Guatemalan hero and was nicely carved and painted. Dating from the 1940’s, it was never used or artificially aged to make it look old. It’s a shame that your father didn’t write down the name and location of the morreria. I can find nothing on the initials DMIC. Hopefully someone who specializes in Guatemalan material will help us.

Note: morrerias are shops that makes masks and costumes that can be rented by the villagers. B


  • Jean

    Always difficult to give a definitive opinion on Guatemalan masks, because nothing (or very little) is systematized. Listen to my feeling, what I could say about this one is the following:
    1/ It represents indeed a conquistador, probably Pedro de Alvarado. He shows the frown typical of the representations of this character. But nothing is absolute, and it could have been used as another character.
    2/ The quality of carving is not that good to mee, make me think to some more recent decorative masks. The details and the surface are somewhat angular. There is no sign of gesso below the paint. Nothing to see with the quality of early XXth carving, not to say XIXth.
    3/ There is no sign of use at all, no patina. The back shows crude wood.
    4/ The marks on the back are totally different from the usual moreria’s marks. They are not burned, but incised. It is most probably the signature of the carver (not referenced in the books I own).

    Wouldn’t be the story told by the owner, I would consider this mask as a recent one (late XXth, early XIXth).
    Making everything together, I would conclude this: mask from middle XXth century (based on owner’s story only), never used, carved to be sold to tourists, probably Alvarado, unknown carver mark behind.

  • Bob Ibold

    We all appreciate when a specialist like Jean takes the time to improve my answer. I try to deal with all of the world’s masks, which is an impossible task. Thanks for your help.

  • Alicia

    Are these eyes wooden or glass? Were wooden eyes (inserted) ever used in Guatemalan masks? (I have one that is missing an eye and the other eye is wood.) If so, would it help in dating it?

    Also, I’m an amateur and when a comment is made that the carving is “rather crude,” it doesn’t help me distinguish what about the carving is not up-to-parr. Could you be more specific so that I can train my eye? Thanks!

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