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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I will leave you: my death mask.


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I actually would not have complained if any of my great grandparents or grandparents would have told me that: “and for my granddaughter, I leave my death mask so she can remember my face” maybe they used to say that before photography was invented.




Death mask is a cast made of a recently deceased person’s face. These masks are made of wax, metal and most common from plaster. These masks were made for different purposes; amongst them busts, sculptures, effigies for the memorial of the dead. The main one is for the immortalization of the person. Sometimes they were placed on top of the coffin or just for families to keep.

During the Middle Ages and the early 20’s making death masks was a common practice offered by the funeral parlors but since the invention of the photography this tradition faded through the centuries.




“In the cases of people whose faces were damaged by their death, it was common to take casts of their hands. An example of this occurred in the case of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, the Canadian statesman whose face was shattered by the bullet which assassinated him in 1868.” - Wikipedia

Life masks (made from a living subject) were also made at the time but death mask were much more difficult to do because for embalmers and/or sculptors was very important to make a cast of the person’s face as soon as possible since the muscles get relax and the form of the face changes a little bit but more with time.






Thanks to this practice many famous personalities in history were immortalized by them and as a result we are able to see faithful replicas of these people. The forensic science has benefit a lot from it, and even today we can still study a person just by meticulously study a death mask. The original molds of these masks are saved at a museum. What we usually see is just another copy of the mask. I believe I read somewhere that there are not more than 3-4 copies of the same mask around the world but those copies were made decades or centuries ago depending on the person's date of death of course. 

Being face to face to a personality’s death mask makes that person even more real than a painting or a drawing on a book.

(Romans and Ludwig Van Beethoven)






   (Marie Antoinette and  Henry IV of France)


(Alfred Hitchcock) 


 ( Mary Queen of Scots and Nikolai Tesla)





( Pancho Villa )


( W. Shakespeare )

 ( Sir Isaac Newton )



( Frederick II, King of Prussia )

( George Washington )


Would do like to have your own Life or Death mask ? Why ?

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