Napoleon Bonaparte's death mask & more - The Top 5 death masks
Death masks, including Napoleon Bonaparte's, are highly collectible, yet few remain in private hands
Paul Fraser Collectibles, Tuesday 17 April 2012
Napoleon Bonaparte's death mask is probably the most famous of all. Shrouded in controversy, there are only four copies of the original death mask that have been certified as genuine.
The mask was made on May 7, 1821, just a day and a half after Bonaparte passed away from stomach cancer, aged 51.
It was customary at the time to make a mould of the face of any great leader who had died, which would have been cast by one of the many doctors surrounding his bedside.
Napoleon's attendant, Madame Bertrand, is said to have stolen the original casting, leaving doctors with just the ears and the back of the head, and necessitating further casts to be made. She later gave a copy of the mask to the doctors, from which several copies were made.
The Bertrand incident is just one of many mysteries surrounding the origins of the mask; it has become a highly-sought after item for collectors of Napoleon Bonaparte.
A copy of the Soviet dictator's death mask was recently sold at auction in Ludlow, UK for £3,600.
The original casts were made just days after Stalin died from a series of strokes in 1952. His body lay in state, next to that of Vladimir Lenin, for almost a decade. It was later removed as part of the de-Stalinisation process.
There are nine original death masks, all of which are housed in Russia. They were not seen in the west until the collapse of communism in 1990, making the Stalin mask all the more exciting for collectors. There are just two copies from the originals in existence in the West.
Not so much a death mask as a life mask, the existing casts of the assassinated president were actually made while he was alive. The first was made by Leonard Volk in 1860, the second in 1865 by Clark Mills. They were created as models for sculptures of the president.
The masks show the entire head of Lincoln and are remarkably detailed. Displaying his trademark facial hair, the president sits serenely with eyes closed.
The detail of the masks has allowed doctors to conclude that he suffered from multiple mucosal neuroma syndrome and may have died from the disease shortly, had he not been assassinated.
The death mask of Oliver Cromwell is currently displayed at the British Museum. The Lord Protector's death mask shows the cloth bound to his head prior to embalming and is perhaps one of the ugliest of its kind, clearly displaying the military leader's warts and boils.
The creator of the New Model Army died in 1658 after suffering from malaria and kidney infections, although the exact cause of his death is unknown. Three years after his death in 1661, his body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey and was subject to a posthumous execution.
The death mask of Alfred Hitchcock should be noted for its character.
The director, whose career spanned several decades, is shown in his death mask looking decidedly disgruntled. His downturned mouth and stern frown capture his last moments brilliantly and provide a superb insight into the character of one of film's greatest directors. He died of renal failure in his Bel Air home in 1980.
A life mask of Hitchcock was also produced for the trailer of his 1972 film Frenzy.
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