Death mask of Napoleon

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Francois Carlo Antommarchi's death mask of Napoleon, Musee de l'Armee, Paris. Death mask of Napoleon-IMG 1535-black.jpg
François Carlo Antommarchi's death mask of Napoléon, Musée de l'Armée, Paris.

During the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, it was customary to cast a death mask of a great leader who had recently died. [1] [2] A mixture of wax or plaster was carefully placed over Napoleon's face and removed after the form had hardened. From this impression, subsequent copies were cast. Much mystery and controversy surrounds the origins and whereabouts of the most original cast moulds. There are only four genuine bronze death masks known to exist. [3]

Death mask wax or plaster cast made of a person’s face following death

A death mask is a likeness of a person's face following death, often made by taking a cast or impression directly from the corpse. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits. Such casts obviate idealised representations by revealing the actual features. It is sometimes possible to identify portraits that have been painted from death masks, because of the characteristic slight distortions of the features caused by the weight of the plaster during the making of the mold.



Napoleon's original death mask was created on 7 May 1821, [1] a day and a half after the former emperor died on the island of St. Helena at age 51. [1] Surrounding his deathbed were doctors from France and the United Kingdom. Some historical accounts contend that Dr. François Carlo Antommarchi (one of several doctors who encircled Napoleon's deathbed) cast the original "parent mould", which would later be used to reproduce bronze and additional plaster copies. Other records, however, indicate that Dr. Francis Burton, a surgeon attached to the British Army's Sixty-Sixth Regiment at St. Helena, presided at the emperor's autopsy and during that postmortem procedure cast the original mould. [1] Antommarchi obtained from his British colleagues a secondary plaster mould from Burton's original cast. With that second-generation mould, Antommarchi in France reportedly made further copies of the death mask in plaster as well as in bronze. [1]

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state‍—‌the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

François Carlo Antommarchi Napoleons physician from 1818-1821

François Carlo Antommarchi was Napoleon's physician from 1818 to his death in 1821.

Yet another contention regarding the origins of the death mask and its copies is that Madame Bertrand, Napoleon's attendant on St. Helena, allegedly stole part of the original cast, leaving Burton with only the ears and back of the head. The British doctor subsequently sued Bertrand to retrieve the cast, but failed to do so in court. A year later Madame Bertrand gave Antommarchi a copy of the mask, from which he had several copies made. One of those he sent to Lord Burghersh, the British envoy (representative) in Florence, asking him to pass it to the famous sculptor, Antonio Canova. Unfortunately Canova died before he had time to use the mask and instead the piece remained with Burghersh. The National Museums Liverpool version, cast by E. Quesnel, is thought to be a descendant of that mask. [4]

Some people believe that Dr. Antommarchi lived in Cuba for a short period of time and contracted yellow fever. While there he lived on his cousin's coffee plantation and became close to General Juan de Moya. Before Dr. Antommarchi died, he made General Moya a death mask from his mould. It is believed that the mask still resides in The Museum in Santiago de Cuba, province of Oriente, where there was a large group of French immigrants that established coffee plantations in the high mountains of the Sierra Maestra. [5]

Cuba Country in the Caribbean

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is a country comprising the island of Cuba as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. It is east of the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), south of both the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti and north of both Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Havana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. The area of the Republic of Cuba is 110,860 square kilometres (42,800 sq mi). The island of Cuba is the largest island in Cuba and in the Caribbean, with an area of 105,006 square kilometres (40,543 sq mi), and the second-most populous after Hispaniola, with over 11 million inhabitants.

Coffee Brewed beverage

Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans, the seeds of berries from certain Coffea species. The genus Coffea is native to tropical Africa and Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius, and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Coffee plants are now cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, Indian subcontinent, and Africa. The two most commonly grown are C. arabica and C. robusta. Once ripe, coffee berries are picked, processed, and dried. Dried coffee seeds are roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor. Roasted beans are ground and then brewed with near-boiling water to produce the beverage known as coffee.

Plantation long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale

A plantation is the large-scale estate meant for farming that specializes in cash crops. The crops that are grown include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, sisal, oil seeds, oil palms, rubber trees, and fruits. Protectionist policies and natural comparative advantage have sometimes contributed to determining where plantations were located.

New Orleans authorities moved their death mask in 1853. During the tumult that accompanied the Civil War, the mask disappeared. A former city treasurer spotted the mask in 1866 as it was being hauled to the dump in a junk wagon. Rather than return the mask to the city, the treasurer took the mask home and put it on display there. Eventually Napoleon's death mask wound up in the Atlanta home of Captain William Greene Raoul, president of the Mexican National Railroad. Finally, in 1909, Napoleon's death mask made its way back to New Orleans. Captain Raoul read a newspaper article about the missing mask and wrote to the mayor of its whereabouts. In exchange for suitable acknowledgement, Raoul agreed to donate the death mask to New Orleans. The mayor transferred the mask to the Louisiana State Museum that year. [6]

New Orleans Largest city in Louisiana

New Orleans is a consolidated city-parish located along the Mississippi River in the southeastern region of the U.S. state of Louisiana. With an estimated population of 393,292 in 2017, it is the most populous city in Louisiana. A major port, New Orleans is considered an economic and commercial hub for the broader Gulf Coast region of the United States.

Atlanta Capital of Georgia, United States

Atlanta is the capital of, and the most populous city in, the U.S. state of Georgia. With an estimated 2017 population of 486,290, it is also the 38th most-populous city in the United States. The city serves as the cultural and economic center of the Atlanta metropolitan area, home to 5.8 million people and the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the nation. Atlanta is the seat of Fulton County, the most populous county in Georgia. A small portion of the city extends eastward into neighboring DeKalb County.


In 1834, Dr. Antommarchi traveled to the United States, visited New Orleans, and presented that city with a bronze copy of the mask. The French doctor also gave a painted plaster copy to a colleague in New Orleans, Dr. Edwin Smith. [1] Following the death of Dr. Smith, the plaster mask was given to the family of Captain Francis Bryan, a resident of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1894, Bryan donated this mask to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. [1]

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill public research university in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), also known as UNC-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, or simply Carolina is a public research university in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is the flagship of the 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. After being chartered in 1789, the university first began enrolling students in 1795, which also allows it to be one of three schools to claim the title of the oldest public university in the United States. Among the claimants, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the only one to have held classes and graduated students as a public university in the eighteenth century.

During its first years in Chapel Hill, Napoleon's plaster face was displayed as a curio on a table in the office of UNC President George T. Winston. The death mask was later transferred to the university library and ultimately found its way to the library's North Carolina Collection. Today, the mask remains in remarkably good condition. The only visible damage to it is a chip above the emperor's upper lip. That damage occurred in 1907, when a janitor at the university overturned the mask while dusting it. On the underside of the mask is the handwritten inscription: "Dr. Edwin B. Smith's head of Nap.n" and "Presented to Dr. Smith by N[ap's] Phys'n. Dr.Ant[tommarchi]." Also written on the bottom of the mask is "Tête d'Armée" ("Head of the Army"), reportedly the last words uttered by Napoleon. [1]

Dr. Antommarchi moved to Cuba in 1838. While there, he lived on his cousin's coffee plantation and became close to General Juan de Moya. Before Dr. Antommarchi died, he made General Moya a death mask from his mould. It is believed that the mask still resides in the Museum in Santiago de Cuba, province of Oriente, where there were many French immigrants who established coffee plantations in the high mountains of the Sierra Maestra. [5]

A bronze death mask is in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery; it was donated by Sir George Grey and is attributed to Antommarchi. [7]

Another death mask formerly owned by John Codman Ropes now resides in the lobby of Boston University's Mugar Library. [8]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Fulghum, Neil (2008). "The Emperor in Chapel Hill: The Death Mask of Napoleon", article included on website page devoted to the "Death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte", North Carolina Collection (NCC), Special Collections, The Louis Round Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  2. An early 1830s copy of Napoleon's death mask is preserved and occasionally exhibited in the North Carolina Collection Gallery, a departmental section within the University Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. The mask is available to researchers for examination by submitting a formal request and obtaining an appointment from the NCC.
  3. "New Orleans Cabildo". Fondation Napoléon. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  4. "Napolean's death mask". Liverpool Museums. Archived from the original on 2011-06-08. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  5. 1 2 Gamiz, L. Minez (1916-02-13). "Genuine Death Mask of Napoleon in Havana" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  6. "List of Napoleon artifacts at The New Orleans Cabildo". Louisiana State Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  7. Death Mask of Napoleon