A mask is worn to disguise or hide the face. It also refers to the facial expression or attitude that is faked and dubious. Painted by Lorenzo Lippi, an Italian painter and poet in the 17th century, this painting depicts a woman holding a mask. She is holding a mask in her right hand and a pomegranate in her left hand, making the meaning of the work difficult to decipher. Who is this woman, and what did the painter want to convey?
Although he was born in Florence, Lippi went to Innsbruck, Austria, and became a court painter there after marrying at 40. This portrait was drawn when the painter was 34 years old and living in Florence. It had long been named the “Woman with Mask.” The mask reminds the viewers of the ancient Greek goddess Thalia, the goddess of comedy, one of the Muses. She is often portrayed as holding a comic mask in her hand and wearing an ivy crown.
If the woman were holding only a mask, this painting would have been understood as the portrait of Thalia. However, the pomegranate that the woman is holding makes the iconological interpretation of the painting even more complicated. Pomegranate consists of many seeds and is often taken as a symbol of unification in Christian art. In Judaism, it means sanctity and fertility. However, in Greek mythology, the pomegranate is a fruit that Hades, god of the Underworld, made Persephone eat to lure her into becoming his wife, which symbolizes death and abundance.
The artwork’s title, “Allegory of Simulation,” is also suggestive. The French word “simulation,” the same as the English word, means to imitate and reproduce. Then it would be more reasonable to assume that the woman in the painting does not portray a specific individual but rather is an allegorical expression of the fake that imitates the truth.
The woman wearing a mask of Thalia, the goddess of comedy, seemingly suggests abundance, beauty, and unity. Still, the painter might have wanted to convey that this is all trick and fake. The 17th-century painter may warn us that what is visible in the eye may not always be true, and we should guard against those who wear splendor and magnificent masks.