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Author's Note: How Death Masks Work

I first learned about death masks a few years ago while I was researching a paper for a course on Russian opera. Thumbing through the pages of Tchaikovsky's biography, I stopped on a photograph of the great composer, or more precisely his corpse. The facing page featured his death mask, almost an exact mirror of the photograph. I couldn't tear myself away, and I stared at the death mask until I remembered I had deadlines to meet. Every now and then, I remembered the death mask but never really knew what it was. Writing this article helped me understand the strange plaster cast I saw. Death masks (and life masks) humanize the figures of history for me. I'm inspired to make my own life mask now, if only to scare my friends.

Sources

  • Delaney, John. "Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks. A Pictorial Guide by John Delaney." Princeton University Library. 2003. (April 1, 2012) http://library.princeton.edu/libraries/firestone/rbsc/aids/C0770/#Top
  • Encyclopædia Britannica. "Death Mask." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2012. (April 4, 2012) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/154521/death-mask
  • FBI. "Famous Cases and Criminals: John Dillinger." (Nov. 26, 2012) http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/john-dillinger
  • Gibson, Iris I.J.M. "Death Masks Unlimited." British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition). Vol. 291, no. 6511. Pages 1785-1787. December 21-28, 1985.
  • History Channel. "Death Masks." YouTube. 2009. (April 5, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q6cuiYA0f4
  • Radiolab. "Death Mask." Nov. 28, 2011. (March 31, 2012) http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2011/nov/28/death-mask/