Japanese Mask for the Gigaku Theatre
Miniature Gigaku Mask of Suikoju
13th Century – 4 inches high
Insurance Replacement Appraisal
Japanese mask of Cypress wood (hinoki), gesso, pigment. A miniature carved Japanese mask from the Gigaku theatre, of the character Suikoju. Suikoju, or Shiko-ju, is a member of the group of characters known as Kojin (foreigners or barbarians). His character represents a drunken foreign attendant. The holes along the bottom of his chin, would have been woven with his beard. Gigaku theatre consist of fourteen characters in four groups: Kojin (foreigners), Gojin (Wu Chinese of central eastern China), Nankaijin (Southern Sea peoples), and Irui (animals). Gigaku was an early form of Japanese theatre, preceding Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku, the classical theatres of Japan. Alice Karle researched and properly identified this rare 13th century Japanese mask, which had been incorrectly identified on a former inventory as 19th century papier-mache. This mask closely resembles examples from the Kamakura period in the 13th century.
Gigaku (or Gagaku) was the traditional music theatre of the Japanese Court from the 7th to 10th centuries. Introduced in the 7th century by the Yamoto Court, Gigaku reached great popularity in the Nara period (710‑794). By the middle of the Heian era (794‑1185) it had been largely supplanted by Bugaku, masked dancing performed on a raised platform, accompanied by very slow music. Gigaku is a combination of Togaku, derived from China during the Tang period, Komagaku from Korea, and original Japanese music.
Japan has gone through periods both of isolation and engagement in its’ history. The Yamato, Nara, Heian, and Kamakura Courts, admired both Chinese and Korean culture. They imported and assimilated Buddhism, cultural ceremonies, theatrical performance practices, music and dance.
Gigaku (literally, “skill music”) is thought to have been a dramatic form of religious dance procession, accompanied by simple musical arrangements on flute, gong, and drum. As the dance was usually seen from a distance, masks were deeply carved to convey expression, often one of comic relief. The Japanese mask designs for Gigaku were carved by Buddhist sculptors, and the practice of the Gigaku theatre was associated with Buddhism.
Most Gigaku masks are large with exaggerated features, constructed to cover the upper part of the head, including the ears and face. Performances were held in large outdoor arenas. The exact use of miniature masks is unknown. It is surmised they were intended for smaller private indoor plays or ceremonies, are possible precursors to puppetry in Japan, or perhaps are models for carvers to follow.