Death Masks are easily the most haunting mementos of the deceased. They have been in existence since the time of Tutankhamun, whose solid gold burial mask is an object of extreme beauty and superstition. Here, we present twenty casts that have preserved some of the most famous faces to have graced this planet.
1. Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French. Original cast created on 7th May, 1821, one and a half day after his death on the island of St. Helena. Only four copies of the original cast have been verified has genuine. This bronzed copy is currently on display at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans.
2. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
Post-Mortem casts of face and hands by famed sculptor Sergey Merkurov.
3. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Reputedly taken after post mortem by Josef Dannhauser. Beethoven suffered from ill health throughout the later stages of his life and the comparison with his life mask, taken in 1812, is startling.
4. Abraham Lincoln
Taken at the time of his autopsy and currently on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington DC. In 2007, Dr. John Sotos studied his face and medical records and concluded that he suffered from a disease called Multiple Mucosal Neuroma Syndrome and had he not been assassinated, he would have died soon anyway.
5. Alfred Hitchcock
The master of suspense in all his eeriness. Would have looked great on the walls of Bates Motel.
6. Isaac Newton
Original cast by John Michael Rysbrack. Many copies of this mask were made and distributed and were especially prized by the Trinity Scholars of Cambridge University.
Influential enlightenment philosopher. Cast is currently on display at the Hunterian museum of the Glasgow University. Contrary to popular belief, his remains were not thrown in a heap of rubbish by right wing fanatics but are still present in his tomb.
8. Alfred Nobel
The original death mask and will of the founder of Nobel prize is displayed at his residence in Karlskoga, Sweden
9. John Keats
A Romantic great, Keats lived his last days in Rome and his death mask is currently on display at his house in Piazza di Spagna.
10. Leo Tolstoy
Another famous cast by Sergey Merkurov, taken on a pillow.
11. Maximilien Robespierre
“Dictateur Sanguinaire” and the most influential figure of the French Revolution. Taken by Madame Tussaud from his freshly guillotined head.
12. Ned Kelly
The most infamous Australian ever. Original cast was taken by Maxmillion Kreitmeyer or Desiderio Cristofani and copies were distributed all over the continent. Rumor has it that the casts were commissioned for the purpose of analyzing his skull using phrenology.
13. Heinrich Himmler
Taken by British intelligence officials as a proof of his death after he bit into a cyanide pill hidden in a molar cavity. Currently on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
14. Benjamin Franklin
There is no consensus to whether this cast is a life mask or a death mask. However, the mask has a closer resemblance to images taken in his later years.
15. James Joyce
Taken by Victor Dallo under the supervision of Paul Speck. Can be viewed at the James Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove, Dublin.
16. Friedrich Nietzsche
The man who questioned the existence of truth. Cast by unknown sculptor.
17. Oliver Cromwell
The first “Lord Protector” of the “Commonwealth of England”. Original displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
18. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A subject of frequent artistic reproductions.
19. Nikola Tesla
Death mask of the greatest Electrical Engineer ever can be viewed at the Nikola Tesla museum in Belgrade, Serbia.
20. John Dillinger
The bank robber who spawned numerous movies, urban legends, conspiracy theories and rumors of immortality. At least four original castings of his face were made at the Cook County morgue and copies remain popular collector’s items.