About this object

History of use

This mask was used in the Dance of the Moors and the Christians which, along with other dance dramas, was introduced into Mexico by Franciscan missionaries as early as the sixteenth century as a mean of converting indigenous peoples to Christianity. Some of these dramas were already popular in parts of Europe: dances depicting Moors and Christians were performed in Aragon and Burgundy as early as the twelfth century, and spread south to Valencia and Murcia and west to Galicia and Portugal before converging in Castile in the fifteenth century. Many versions of this dance –some of which included dialogue that focused on the struggle between Christians led by Santiago, and the Moors– were adapted to represent the archetypal battle between Spanish Christianity and other “pagan” faiths. In most versions it is the Spanish who eventually win over the native population, whether they be Muslim or the indigenous peoples of the Americas. But in a few versions, such as the Dance of the Plumes, recorded in the valley of Oaxaca in central Mexico, and the Dance of the Tastoanes, in Jalisco, the victors are the indigenous protagonists. With God’s help, the indigenous peoples outwit the Spanish by killing Santiago, who is admonished by God in death for fighting on the side of the sinful Europeans. Santiago requests absolution and is resurrected, after which he leads the indigenous warriors to victory over their tormentors.

Iconographic meaning

The mask would have represented a Christian in the Dance of the Moors and Christians.

Physical description

Mask of a king wearing a crown. The crown has a dark blue flower at the centre bottom along the red, white, and red base. There is a light blue cross at the top centre of the crown which has fleur-de-lis at both ends, and pink and light blue flowers inbetween. The face is yellow with black eyes and a pink mouth. The upraised and curved eyebrows have holes cut out underneath. Swirling curves are carved into the black moustache and beard. There are two small holes at either side.