The Roman masks
What are Masks?
Gargoyles were carved or molded decorative figures, often in the form of animal heads or mythological creatures such as lions, griffins, or sirens. They were used to decorate public buildings, private houses, fountains and monuments.
What is the origin of the masks?
The origin of the masks dates back to a long time before ancient Rome.
The practice of decorating buildings with figures sculpted in the shape of animal heads or mythological creatures by the Romans is one of the many contaminations of Greek antiquity in Roman culture, however, it is thought that the origin of the masks is even further back in the time, in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian culture.
Indeed, in these cultures there are many sculpted works of art representing heads of animals and mythological creatures, often used as decorative or symbolic elements.
Furthermore, the practice of using animal heads as decorative elements was also very common in many ancient tribal cultures, such as the Celtic peoples and the peoples of Central Asia.
The use of masks then spread in Europe in the medieval period, especially in the decoration of religious buildings and castles. During the Renaissance, ancient Greco-Roman art was re-evaluated and rediscovered, and many Renaissance artists were inspired by gargoyle decoration to create works of art of great aesthetic and cultural value.
In summary, the origin of the masks is very ancient and is lost in the history of the different cultures of the world, and was then adopted and developed also in the art of ancient Rome and the European Renaissance.
Besides the decorative factor, what prompted the ancient Romans to place masks on doors and gates?
In addition to the decorative function, the masks positioned above the doors in ancient Rome also had a protective function; the famous Roman superstition supports the use of these splendid sculptures.
In fact, it was believed that the masks could protect the house and its inhabitants from evil spirits and bad luck. It was believed that gargoyles could scare away evil spirits and protect the inhabitants of the house from negative influences.
The masks represent the strength, power, even the cruelty of the owners of the house, in order to intimidate any intruders, whether they were spirits or in the flesh, not surprisingly, the masks as well as depict anthropomorphic subjects with frightening features , were often made in the form of heads of wild animals, such as lions or tigers, or mythological monsters.
In this way, the masks had both a symbolic and a practical function, protecting the house and its inhabitants from possible external threats.
Did the gargoyles on the rings also have an apotropaic function?
In general, the presence of masks on rings in ancient Rome had mainly a decorative and symbolic function, rather than a protective one against evil spirits.
As I mentioned earlier, the gargoyles on Roman rings often represented mythological figures or wild animals, such as lions or snakes, which symbolized strength, power and protection, however, this protective function was mostly symbolic, as the rings were worn by their owners. as a symbol of their prestige and authority, rather than as a means of physical protection against evil spirits.
However, it must be said that the ancient Romans strongly believed in the presence of spirits and gods, and in general they used many amulets and talismans to protect themselves and their homes from negative influences. Thus, it is possible that some gargoyle rings were also worn for protection against evil spirits, but this was not the main function of these items.
On the left my reproduction in 750 gold, and on the right the image of an original first century ring found in Oplontis (between Pompeii and Herculaneum).