Sunday, October 12, 2008

Question from Elizabeth - Death masks

I have seen photos of the death masks of Henry VII and Mary Queen of Scots, but does anyone know of any other Tudor death masks? If so, do they still survive into the present?


Anonymous Roland H. said...

There is a surviving funeral effigy head of Elizabeth of York. The one of Mary Stuart (at the Lennoxlove Museum I believe) is not actually of her according to her biographer Antonia Fraser.

October 12, 2008 12:21 PM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

Death masks should not be confused with funerary effigies. The first were made by taking a direct impression, usually in wax, of the newly deceased person's face. The second were simply sculptures of the deceased person that were used in the funeral ceremonies or placed on their tombs.

The famous shoulder-length "death mask" of Henry VII, painted in natural colors, is actually a funerary effigy sculpture, not a death mask. It is a copy made from another, full-length funerary effigy, which in turn is believed to have been based on an actual death mask that is now lost.

The reputed wax death mask of Mary Stuart is probably a forgery, or so many historians believe. The circumstances of her death were so closely supervised and controlled and such an effort made to get rid of anything that might become a relic that it would have been difficult for anyone to make a death mask. The history of "her" mask cannot be traced back beyond the mid 1700s, casting more doubt on its authenticity. Further, the mask itself gives the impression of physical perfection, with no flaws or any of the other alterations usually seen in the facial structure of a deceased person, especially one whose head as severed, and then only after several blows of the axe.

A modern scholarly authority on the history of death masks has said that there is no evidence of genuine death masks being taken or made for any of the Tudors except Henry VII. And none are known to have survived. (see "Undying Faces: A Collection of Death Masks" by Georg Kolbe and Margaret Green)

October 12, 2008 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, can someone explain what a death mask is.

October 12, 2008 10:37 PM  
Blogger Bearded Lady said...

wierd! I just did a blog posting on this last week.

A death mask is a plaster, wax or metal casting of the deceased’s face. In the 16th -17th century death masks had little value as work of arts. With the rise of naturalism in art, death masks were viewed simply as a tool to assist in portraiture.

A good example of a death mask is by the French painter Francois Clouet who took a mask of Francis I on the day he died in order to complete his portrait.

You should generally be suspicious of the authenticity of any 16th century death mask that has eyelashes and hair (like Mary Queen of Scots). Death masks were not intended to be idealized portrayals of the deceased (at least not yet). They were tools for accuracy in portraiture.

And like phd historian already mentioned, this is not to be confused with funeral effigies which were created to represent the dead.

October 13, 2008 7:23 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home