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    Shell Mosaic Ritual Mask

    A work made of stone and spondylus shell with stucco.
    CC0 Public Domain Designation

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    • A work made of stone and spondylus shell with stucco.


    AD 300/600


    Teotihuacan, Mexico

    About this artwork

    Teotihuacan, the ruins of which are located near Mexico City, was one of the largest and most complex cities in the world during the first millennium AD. Although this mask shares features common to others from the city—a broad forehead, prominent nose, receding chin, and widely spaced cheekbones—it is subtly unique, indicating that it may represent a stylized portrait. Tied to wooden armatures adorned with feathers, jewelry, and garments, such masks were displayed in residential compounds and temples where they were the focus of rituals commemorating ancestors who acted as intermediaries between the living and the deified forces of nature. An older, recut stone mask was covered with mosaic tiles made from the inner layer of spondylus shell imported from the Pacific coast. The use of this exotic material suggests the far-reaching power, author?ity, and wealth of Teotihuacan. Spondylus was also considered sacred, associating this mask and the individual it honors with the generative power of lakes, rivers, and the sea.

    On View

    Arts of the Americas, Gallery 136




    Shell Mosaic Ritual Mask




    300 CE–600 CE


    Stone and spondylus shell with stucco


    18 × 21 × 11 cm (7 1/8 × 8 1/4 × 4 5/16 in.)

    Credit Line

    Through prior gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Wood and Mr. and Mrs. William E. Hartmann; Robert Allerton Trust; through prior gifts of Ethel and Julian R. Goldsmith and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel A. Marx; Morris L. Parker Fund; restricted gifts of Cynthia and Terry Perucca and Bill and Stephanie Sick; Wirt D. Walker Trust, Bessie Bennett, and Elizabeth R. Vaughn funds; restricted gifts of Rita and Jim Knox and Susan and Stuart Handler; Edward E. Ayer Fund in memory of Charles L. Hutchinson and Gladys N. Anderson Fund; restricted gift of Terry McGuire; Samuel P. Avery and Charles U. Harris Endowed Acquisition funds

    Reference Number


    Extended information about this artwork

    Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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