- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Carved and painted cypress (J. hinoki) wood
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Japan, room 45, case 10
Noh is the classical theatre of Japan which was codified in the 14th century by the father and son actors Kan'ami and Zeami under the patronage of the Shogun (supreme military leader) Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Under Yoshimitsu the Zen principles of restraint, understatement, economy of movement and frugality of expression became incorporated into the performance. By the early seventeenth century Noh had become an even more austere and formalised drama reserved almost exclusively for the Tokugawa family, the ruling military elite.
The Uba mask is used in Noh plays such as Sotoba Komachi of the Third Group and Takasago of the First Group. Uba is used by all schools, generally for non-dancing roles, which are often secondary tsure roles; compare with old women's masks in dancing roles such as Rojo, Komachi and Higaki Onna. Despite the inscription this is not an exact copy of the 16th century original by Himi; that mask has hair more thickly depicted and with more flowing features, whereas this mask is carved and painted in more refined manner.
The mask is cut from a single piece of Japanese cypress (hinoki) to which layers of sabi-urushi and gofun have been applied. The mask has then been painted in the proscribed colours for this character. The old woman has an emaciated appearance accentuated by the high cheekbones, gaunt chin, prominent forehead and the raised eyebrows above the narrow, down-cast eyes. The melancholy of the character is depicted by means of the many creases and wrinkles carved on the brow, cheeks and around the mouth. The nose is delicately sculpted and, despite a slightly sunken bridge, the former youthful beauty of this old woman is well indicated. The mouth is partly open with down-turned lips which reveal the upper teeth. The lower lip has been carved in a slightly lopsided way and, whether deliberate or not, creates a greater sensation of sadness. The eyes are slightly protruding and are carved as fine slits with a trace of delicately carved eyelids.
The mask is painted an of-white colour which has darkened (or has become dirty) on the higher exposed areas of the carving. The wrinkles are filled with a lighter colour which accentuates the folds. The lips are painted a subtle red and reveal black polished teeth. The upper painted eyebrows are drawn in very fine pale sumi. Perhaps the most outstanding detail of the mask is the superb painting of the hair, which is of the finest quality. Over the white base colour of the mask, delicate lines of dark grey hair have been drawn over a much whiter hue, with several stray hairs of minute detail falling out of place and onto the face.
The interior of the mask, in contrast to the fine details of the face, is of relatively poor workmanship and has been stained a reddish brown colour, similar to that obtained by using persimmon juice. There are some chisel marks visible, and around the forehead there are many coarse vertical grooves where a signature has been removed before the current attribution was painted in. Curiously, in the recesses for the eyes, nose and mouth, the outline of the features have been painted black, the purpose for this is not clear. There is an indication of wear to the cord holes both inside and out of the mask.
There are many forms of this generic type, some dating back to the 14th century. All, however, share the wrinkled and bony features of a woman grown old gracefully. The hair and thin, high eyebrows have streaks of white mixed into the black. The sunken eyes look down, being carved as a slightly curved slit. The serenity of the face reflects a divine nature that has only temporarily taken on the form of an old woman, such as the spirit of the Takasago tree bound in age-long love to her partner in Sumiyoshi (the tsure role in Takasago), or the old wife-goddess in Kuzu. A fine example, and possibly the prototype, is the Uba mask owned by the Hoshokai bearing an inscription with the date 1504.
Noh mask of Uba
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Carved and painted cypress (J. hinoki) wood
Marks and inscriptions
Height: 20.9 cm, Width: 14.1 cm
Object history note
Nō mask of a graceful woman (uba), carved and painted wood, Japan, ca. 1650-1700
Labels and date
Nō mask of a graceful old woman (Uba)
Signed ‘Copy of Uba made by Himi’
Carved and painted cypress
Museum no. 578K-1886
attributed to Himi
Entertainment & Leisure; Woodwork
East Asia Collection