This small terracotta sculpture represents the mask and wig of a comic actor. When this mask was created, the most popular theatrical form was New Comedy.
Typified by the plays of Menander, New Comedy focused on the humorous situations of everyday life, especially that of thwarted love. Young men, irate fathers, beautiful girls, cunning slaves, and other stock characters peopled these plays. This mask may represent one of the various types of young men. It falls into a category of masks called New Style by scholars. New Style masks have a fuller, softer modeling of the facial features and hair, and often have the sleepy-eyed appearance of this example.
Tarentum in South Italy was a leading producer of terracotta figurines in the Hellenistic period. Although the precise use of this mask in antiquity remains unknown, many similar masks and statuettes of actors have been excavated from tombs at Tarentum. The Greek god Dionysos provides the connection between theatrical images and death. The god of theater also promised those who worshiped him a better afterlife.