This death mask just sold for $260,000. Can you guess whose it is?

Illustration for article titled This death mask just sold for $260,000. Can you guess whose it is?

We'll give you a hint: He's famous for once saying, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."


It's Napoleon Bonaparte.

The History Blog tells us more:

One of only two plaster death masks of Napoleon Bonaparte remaining in private hands sold on Wednesday at Bonhams’ Book, Map and Manuscript sale in London for £169,250 ($260,000). The death mask was made by surgeon Francis Burton of Britain’s Sixty-Sixth Regiment of Foot on May 7th, 1821, two days after Napoleon’s death on St. Helena. Madame Bertrand, the former emperor’s attendant in exile and wife of General Bertrand, Napoleon’s Grand Marshal, insisted the death mask be taken even though plaster was hard to come by on the remote Atlantic island. By the time enough plaster was scared up on a neighboring island, Napoleon’s body had begun to decompose so even though she initially refused to let an Englishman making a mould of Napoleon’s face, Madame succumbed to the inevitable: it was either the Englishman or nobody.

Burton’s mould was done in at least two sections — face from eyebrows to chin, back of the head (possibly in two parts) — and at some point in the process Napoleon’s Corsican doctor Francesco Antommarchi, who had earlier insisted a death mask could not be made do the dearth of materials, joined the work in process. The next day, Burton made a positive cast from the moulds, but the face cast stuck to the original mould which could then only be removed by destroying it, so all that was left of Napoleon’s death mask was the mould of the back of his head and the positive cast.

While the face cast was drying, Burton left Longwood House, Napoleon’s residence, and Mme Bernard took advantage of the opportunity to take the cast so copies can be made in Europe, leaving dirty English hands out of it. Burton was promised a copy, but never received one. He had to settle for keeping the moulds of the back of the head which he reportedly destroyed in rage after his attempts to secure the promised copy failed.

Lots more at the History Blog. There's also this take on the story.



Fun Napoleon fact: he was not short. He stood 5'7", a good two inches taller than the average French man of his time.