Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death Masks

I've been feeling a bit ill lately, probably just a summer cold, but I was laying on the couch the other day feeling ill and not wanting to go to work and a program came on the history channel called "Death Masks." I had been watching the show about dinosaurs that was on beforehand, but as soon as they announced the title, I knew it would be just the thing to cheer me up.
Apparently, many historical figures: politicians, artists, etc. have left behind these plaster casts of their faces from back in ancient times even, some while living, but many were cast shortly after their death. In the program they explore the masks of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Julius Caesar, John Dilinger, and William Shakespeare. It's easy to guess which was the most exciting to me. With all the hubbub about Shakespeare's portraits in the past year, this mask seems the key to solving that mystery. In fact they reach a resonable conclusion after determining that the mask is authentic and then comparing the facial structure of it to the portraits done after his death and the new portrait supposedly painted during his lifetime. They found that yes, the newly discovered portrait is very likely of a somewhat younger William Shakespeare. Certain abnormalities in the mask may also indicate the disease that killed Shakespeare (not binge drinking afterall?) but they didn't delve into that much.
It was pretty fascinating, but they history channel website had very little information about the program on their site. There is a site where you can see pictures of many other death masks here. The picture at the top of this entry is Shakespeare's. Interestingly, John Dilinger's death mask used to hang in Herbert Hoover's office like a trophy.


  1. hey.. do you remember what the documentary was called? sounds very intresting

  2. "a program came on the history channel called 'Death Masks.'"