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Death Masks of Famous People: Before Photography, they were made to Memorialize the Dead

Death masks were popular before the photography process. Cameras killed this ritual in the late 19th century. It was considered an honor for famous people to have a death mask before the burial. Wax, plaster, or mud is applied to their faces to create the mask. It was a way for the living to reconnect with the past or to memorialize the dead. There were two types of masks ‘life mask’ created when the person is alive and the ‘death mask’ and were made after the death. Both serve different purposes. Sculptors and artists use ‘Life masks’ to capture the actual impression of the subject, while the ‘Death mask’ was created to memorialize the dead.

Death masks were also known as funeral masks, and they were also created in ancient Egypt as part of the mummification process. Throughout history, the process remained the same. The corpse’s face would be lubricated or protected in gauze before clay or wax was applied to make an imprint of the deceased’s features. After the material dried, it was removed.

Musicians, poets, leaders, philosophers, queens, and several other famous people had the honor to have the Death masks. When Queen Victoria died, her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, tried to have a death mask. The family members of the British Royal family forbade. The popularity of Photography made death masks unnecessary. Here below are some death masks of some famous people.

#1 Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).

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#2 Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).

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#3 A mask believed to be of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

A mask believed to be of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

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#4 A mask believed to be of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

A mask believed to be of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

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#5 Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492).

Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492).

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#6 Mary Queen Of Scots (1542-1587).

Mary Queen Of Scots (1542-1587).

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#7 Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727).

Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727).

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#8 Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805).

Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805).

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#9 Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).

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#10 Martin Luther (1483-1546).

Martin Luther (1483-1546).

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#11 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).

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#12 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

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#13 John Keats (1795-1821).

John Keats (1795-1821).

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#14 Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

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#15 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).

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#16 William Blake (1757 – 1827).

William Blake (1757 – 1827).

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#17 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

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#18 James Joyce (1882-1941).

James Joyce (1882-1941).

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#19 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

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#20 Cosima Wagner (1837-1930).

Cosima Wagner (1837-1930).

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#21 Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).

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#22 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

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#23 George Washington (1732-1799).

George Washington (1732-1799).

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#24 Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

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#25 Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910).

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910).

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#26 Franz Liszt (1811-1886).

Franz Liszt (1811-1886).

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Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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6 Comments

  1. Lincoln’s eyes were usually covered in a square-ish shape to protect the eyelashes, which gives Lincoln’s cast the appearance of “no eyes.” It doesn’t help that he had probably died for a while, causing his eyes to sink in, as well as that he had been shot in the head, which would also cause his eyes/eye to fall in more.