Friday, July 10, 2009

The Art and History of the Death Mask

Death doesn’t lie, so death masks – a cast of the face in wax or plaster, taken just hours after breath has gone – promise truthful representations of the departed. In an era before photography, these masks give us each beauty and blemish, a living presence in unchanging material. But how were they made? And what is their uncanny allure?...
So begins Obit Mag's article "Death Doesn't Lie," which offers a brief discussion of the art and history of that veritable institution, the death mask. You can read the whole story (and see more images) here. Image above, labeled "Making Death Mask, from the article; click in image to see much larger version.


Aimee Marieee said...

Interesting the expertise and artistry that is lost when society changes and a product is no longer needed. Thanks for glimpse into another lost art!

Anonymous said...

If you haven't seen it already, definitely take a look at: Portraits in Plaster: From the Collection of Laurence Hutton. It is a treasure, available in its entirety via Google Books. Published in 1894, it documents Hutton's death mask collection. It includes plates of the masks themselves and detailed stories of their history and creation. He had masks of Keats, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lincoln, Washington, Shakespeare, Dante, Beethoven, and more... It is amazing.

I found it in the bibliography of The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine by Paul Collins, which is a somewhat morbid little treasure itself.