|Richard Brinsley Sheridan|
Or is it? Is this the face of a short and rather dumpy fifty-one year old man? Napoleon died on May 5th, 1821, on the small island of St. Helena where he had been exiled for life after his shattering defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. A cast for a death mask was made by Dr. Francis Burton within a day and a half of Napoleon's death. But, there was another doctor present at the time of Napoleon’s death, Dr. Antommarchi, who some say was mistakenly credited as the doctor who made the original mold. Immediately after the cast was made, it was stolen. It is believed that a woman named Madame Bertrand, Napoleon’s attendant, took the mold and sailed back to England. Dr. Burton tried but was unsuccessful in getting the cast back. Several years later a death mask turned up and was authenticated as being the original by Dr. Antommarchi, though historians have always argued against it, as the Antommarchi mask looked much too young to have been Napoleon, no to mention that bones of the face are heavier, the face itself longer and proportionally different when compared to the portraits that had been painted of the Emperor Napoleon. It is the official mask currently on display at Les Invalides in Paris, France.
Some believe that the death mask above was actually molded from the living face of the Emperor’s valet, Jean-Baptiste Cipriani.
This is the mask that is thought to be authentic:
This death mask was on display at the Royal United Services Institute Museum in London for many years prior to 1973, when the mask was sold. You decide . . . . . here is one of the last portraits of Napoleon, painted by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake on board the ship Bellerophon.
And here is an enlargement of the face
Viola. Ze case it has rested. At least in my mind.
Perhaps the strangest story concerning a death mask - and physiognomy - is that involving Gershon Evan, who went on to live another 64 years after his mask was taken. In September 1939, 16 year old Evan was arrested along with 1,000 other young Jewish men and taken to Vienna's Prater Stadium, where all were detained for weeks. Seeking out those with classic "Semitic" features, Nazi scientists — a commission of the anthropology department of the Natural History Museum — selected 440 men for study. Hair samples, fingerprints, hereditary/ biological appraisals and numerous photographs of the men were taken. The length and width of their noses, lips, chins and other facial features were meticulously documented. Evan was one of them. Soon after, Evan was ordered to submit to having a death mask taken.
"My head on the pillow, I stretched out on the table and closed my eyes," he recalled in his memoirs years later. "The man advised me to relax, while he coated my face with a greasy substance. He applied it from the top of my forehead down to the throat and from ear to ear. The lubricant, he explained, was to prevent the hardened plaster of Paris from sticking to my skin." At the end of the procedure, the death mask was removed, catalogued and archived. Evan was given a single cigarette for his troubles before being moved to Buchenwald, from where he was miraculously released four months later. At age 80, Evan was shown his preserved death mask and barely recognised himself in the youthful face held between the hands of a museum curator.
For more on death masks, including instructions on how to make one, visit Carlyn Becchia's Raucous Royals blog.