Death Masks

by MSO
Egyptian pharaoh's gold death mask

The Egyptians believed that death masks were constructed to give the dead individual a face in his eternal life.

Prior to photography, and dating as far back as the Roman Empire, death masks have been used as the most effective way of capturing, preserving and immortalizing some of history’s most prominent figures.

Used as a means of creating an authentic visage of the dead, death masks proved beneficial in the strides of phrenology and ethnography as a method of study and further as a means of forensic science to aid in the identification of unknown deceased.

In some cultures, death masks were considered important parts of religious life in facilitating communication between the living and the dead in funerary rites. Sometimes these masks could take the form of animals or spirits, allowing the bearer to assume the role of invoked spirits or fend off evil forces. This tradition is mostly seen in African, Native American and Oceanic tribes.

Other tribes use death masks as homage, often serving as a reminder of the deceased for the family.

In order to create a death mask, layer upon layer of wax or plaster are laden on the deceased individual’s face or appendage. Once the material has hardened, it would then be removed from the body, leaving a hollowed imprint in which a mould of the face could be taken.

However, making death masks is not an easy task. In order to obtain the best results, the corpse should not be lying down but rather propped up in a seated position to avoid a distortion of the features from the weight of the mould.

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