Round eyes and a large pierced mouth form part of a tragic theatrical mask on this cameo fragment that was made from a material rare and precious to the Romans. Opposite the mask, the lower portion of a seated male figure holds an unidentified square object in his lap.
Cameo carving during the Roman Empire reached its height in the 100s A.D., when artisans used materials that offered a range of colorful palettes. The artisan of this cameo utilized the material to full effect, carving the striated mask and figure in relief against a neutral background, which may represent part of the structure or scenery of a Roman theater.
Theater was extremely popular in the Roman Empire, and aspects of comedy and drama were often illustrated in Roman art. Theatrical masks and stone reliefs showing actors in rehearsal were especially in vogue; however, some artifacts, such as this cameo, combined mask and figure to define a theatrical space.