Bronze Heads With Gold Masks

Sanxingdui Museum

These faces are much alike, although their heads are shaped differently. Most of the heads found at Sanxingdui are rectangular, with a few being thumb-shaped as in the example to the right. Regardless of head shape, the characteristics of all the faces are quite similar. Schematic and abstract, they seem human-like rather than conventionally human, as if belonging to an order of reality that is separate from everyday life.

Their defining features include: rigidly outlined eyebrows, upper and lower eyelids, and cheeks; wide nose; straight and narrow, wide, slit mouth; almond-shaped, laterally creased eyeballs; and prominent rectangular ears with scrolled pinnae and pierced lobes. The long extended necks end in pointed tips at the front and rear. The rest of the figure would presumably have been covered by clothing (see the next page for an example). The heads, most of them approximately life-size, were evidently mounted on supporting posts or armatures of wood, now lost.

Only six of the 57 bronze heads were supplied with gold foil masks; two examples are seen here. Since new bronze is a golden color, the gold foil would not have presented much of a contrast to the bronze "skin." It is thought that the faces' oversize eyes and eyebrows were painted black, adding to their startling and otherworldly appearance. A similar gold mask is displayed in the Jinsha Museum