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

This mask represents a Moor.

Physical description

Red male face mask with thick black eyebrows, mustache and beard. Small circular hole in centre of forehead.