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Shell Mosaic Ritual Mask

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

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


300–600 CE


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, Gallery 136


Arts of the Americas




Shell Mosaic Ritual Mask


Teotihuacán (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

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; purchased with funds provided by Cynthia and Terry Perucca and Bill and Stephanie Sick; Wirt D. Walker Trust, Bessie Bennett, and Elizabeth R. Vaughn funds; purchased with funds provided by Rita and Jim Knox and Susan and Stuart Handler; Edward E. Ayer Fund in memory of Charles L. Hutchinson and Gladys N. Anderson Fund; purchased with funds provided by Terry McGuire; Samuel P. Avery and Charles U. Harris Endowed Acquisition funds

Reference Number


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