Patrick Schwemmer. Book Review: Heaven has a face, so does Hell: The Art of the Noh Mask by Stephen E. Marvin
That so little is known overseas about the most refined masks in the world, that their great beauty has received almost no recognition, prompted me to write this book’ (p. x) – so Stephen Marvin introduces the first book on Noh masks in English and a major contribution to the fields of Noh studies and art history. Volume I is a monograph relating the history, manufacture, usage, typology, authorship, connoisseurship, storage and display conventions of Noh masks, in enough detail and with enough accuracy to give a sense of the contours of the subject.
Volume II is a catalogue of highlights from Marvin’s own collection, which includes the oldest Tsurimanako in existence (p. 20). The full-page, colour photographs of the obverse, the black-and-white and sometimes colour photos of the reverse, and the detailed material analyses of one, two and sometimes five examples of every major mask type, will surely be a useful reference to the novice student of Noh theatre and the specialized reader in search of details – though both will want to keep in mind the inherent limitations of any one collection or catalogue (Mimi Yiengpruksawan, ‘Japanese Art History 2001’, Art Bulletin 83/1). In any case, this guided tour of a monumental collection will alone make the work a valued addition to the libraries of those not daunted by its price tag.
Marvin’s discussion in Volume I summarizes, harmonizes and expands on the work of 20th century Japanese scholars, including Gotō Hajime, Hori Yasuemon, Konishi Jin’ichi, Nakamura Yasuo, Nakanishi Tōru, Nogami Toyoichirō, Tanabe Saburōsuke and Toida Michizō, most of which has never been published in English before. There are many sections that would be especially useful for students, like the summary of Gotō’s writing on the multi-stage evolution of Noh masks: divine masks were inherited from earlier theatrical traditions, human masks were appropriated from folk traditions, and finally, character masks were made for particular plays.