Death mask of Margaret MacDonald
Death masks are made by oiling
the face of the deceased and applying plaster or wax to make a
mold. The mold can then be used to make any number of casts of
the face. Death masks date back to the ancient Egyptians, where
they were placed over the faces of mummies to identify the dead
to their wandering souls. The well-known mask of King
Tutankhamun is an elaborate example of this practice.
A death mask often served as an
aid to sculptors, particularly those who created tomb effigies.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, the masks were used to create
effigies of royalty upon their deaths. These effigies were then
laid in state for their funerals.
In the 18th and 19th
Centuries, death masks served as a memento of the deceased.
Masks were commonly made of prominent individuals during this
time, and it is possible even today to locate the death masks of
Dante, Napoleon, Beethoven, and Liszt available for mail order