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DigiCULT
.
Info
4
R
ICHARD
W
ILLIAMS
,
N
EW
C
OMEDY
IN
P
ERFORMANCE
P
ROJECT
,
U
NIVERSITY
OF
G
LASGOW
T
he masks of Greek New Comedy are
a vital and neglected part of European
cultural heritage. They are witnesses to
a prolonged fascination with masks, for
they were made and reproduced across the
ancient world for over five hundred years.
The plays they relate to were immense-
ly popular also: Menander was writing in
the 4th century BC, but his plays were still
being read in Egypt nine hundred years
later. Plautus and Terence made adaptations
for the Romans, and through them New
Comedy influenced the Western tradi-
tion from Commedia dell'arte to the com-
edies of Shakespeare and modern sitcom.
Apart from Commedia, the mask has rarely
been used in Western theatre: it is thus even
more important to recover the performance
tradition of New Comedy.
N
one of the masks used on the
ancient Greek stage have been pre-
served ­ they are assumed to have been
made in a perishable material such as a
linen maché. What have survived are mini-
ature masks and statuettes of actors, most-
ly in terracotta, but sometimes in stone,
bronze or other media (see Figures 1a &
1b). The popularity of these artefacts is
remarkable: far more common than masks
of tragedy, they are represented in muse-
ums throughout Europe. Their sophistica-
tion is also extremely remarkable. Based
on subtle observation of character and
physiognomy, they have built into them
the qualities that make a mask powerful
and lifelike, such as asymmetries, the flow
of lines, and above all the different `aspects'
of character that a good mask presents
from different angles, which make it seem
to change expression as it moves. The
potential of a mask is only sensed prop-
erly when it is worn; hence the aim of
the New Comedy in Performance project
(http://www.iah.arts.gla.ac.uk/masks/),
funded by the UK Arts and Humanities
Research Board (http://www.ahrb.ac.uk/)
and based at the Institute of Art History at
the University of Glasgow (http://www.
iah.arts.gla.ac.uk/), has been not only to
digitise these artefacts, but to conduct
practice-based research with masks that are
objectively scaled up from the 3-dimen-
sional data.
N
ew technologies for 3D scanning and
rapid prototyping have been critical
for this work, first to model a virtual arte-
fact at high resolution, and then to replicate
the object at artefact or full life-size.
1
The
ability to scale a mask objectively from the
captured data has distinguished the project
from previous attempts to investigate
ancient (generally tragic) masks, informa-
tive though these have been. Additionally,
the `payload' of 3D imaging is still great-
er here than for other genres of sculpture.
Not only can it help unlock the secrets of
the mask-maker's art, it highlights issues of
human perception of faces and their visual
cues that go beyond the discipline of thea-
tre studies.
A
mong the finest examples of the
masks are those found on the island
of Lipari, off the northern coast of Sicily,
a number of which are in the collec-
tions of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and
Museum, Glasgow.
2
In the late 19th cen-
tury a Scottish mining magnate and phi-
lanthropist, James Stevenson, purchased the
bulk of the island of Vulcano, adjacent to
Lipari, with a view to processing its sul-
phurous rocks. He also acquired the masks,
statuettes and other antiquities that had
been found in some of the first excava-
tions on Lipari, and left these to the City of
Glasgow upon his death in 1903. Over the
past 50 years the entire necropolis of Lipari
has been excavated and another 300 or so
masks found, which are now displayed in
the Aeolian Museum on Lipari. Work that
has been carried out by the Project, with
reconstructions of these masks and with
selected examples from other locations,
confirms that the miniatures, although typi-
cally a third of the size of the human head,
possess when scaled up all the qualities of a
performable mask, as well as fitting close-
T
HE
DIGITAL
MATRIX
: G
REEK
M
ASKS
IN
3D
Figure 1b. Terracotta mask miniature of a young woman, late
4th/early 3rd century B.C. 1903.70.dt.8. Art Gallery and
Museum, Kelvingrove, Glasgow
Figure 1a. Terracotta mask miniature of a youth, late 4th/
early 3rd century B.C. 1903.70.dt.4. Art Gallery and
Museum, Kelvingrove, Glasgow
©
Ar
t
Galler
y
and
Museum,

K
elving
r
o
v
e
©
Ar
t
Galler
y
and
Museum,

K
elving
r
o
v
e
1 Previous issues of DigiCULT.Info have dealt with the possibilities offered by 3D replication of artefacts. A detailed account of the techniques
involved in producing 3D replicas can be found in "La Dama De Elche: Digital Technology in Conservation" in DigiCULT.Info, Issue 7, April
2004, p. 5 http://www.digicult.info/pages/newsletter.php Future issues will continue this theme.
2 For more on the Kelvingrove Museum, see http://www.glasgowmuseums.com/venue/index.cfm?venueid=4