Masking the Dead

Not necessarily the type of accessory I’d want to wear with a Halloween or Masquerade Ball costume. However macabre this kind of mask may seem, it’s still rather fascinating to learn about.

According to Wikipedia, “A death mask is an image, typically in wax or plaster cast made of a person’s face following death, often by taking a cast or impression directly from the corpse. It is a primitive, yet most accurate, form of photography without a camera. Death masks may be momentos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits….. The main purpose of the death mask from the Middle Ages until the 19th century was to serve as a model for sculptures in creating statues and busts of the deceased person.”

Even back during the ancient Egyptian times, masks were specifically created to put on the faces of the dead. To the living, it was considered to be very fashionable.


Famous death masks throughout history include:

Napoleon Bonaparte: French Military leader who died May 5, 1821 from a stomach ulcer.


Ludwig van Beethoven: German composer who died March 26, 1827 due to a post-hepatitic cirrhosis of the liver.


Aaron Burr: 3rd U. S. Vice President who served during Thomas Jefferson’s first term. Burr died September 14, 1836 from a stroke.


Abraham Lincoln: 16th President of the United States. Died April 15, 1865. Assassinated by American actor, John Wilkes Booth.


John Dillinger: American gangster who died July 22, 1934. Killed by gunfire during a shootout with federal agents.


Nikola Tesla: Serbian – American engineer, inventor and physicist. Died January 7, 1943 from a coronary thrombosis.


James Dean: American actor who died September 30, 1955 in a car accident.




Here are a few death masks of some pretty twisted individuals who were criminals that died by execution.

Johann Hatschwanz: Executed for murdering his wife by arsenic poisoning.


Johanne Rehn: Decapitated for murdering her daughter.


Carl Gottlob Irmscher. Decapitated for murdering his wife and child.




And I wouldn’t dare leave out the death mask of a very enchanting young woman who’s identity will forever remain unknown, but has intrigued so many with her peaceful beauty. The ever so elegant, L’Inconnue de la Seine, who died more than a century ago, but is now recognized as the serene face of CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), Resusci Anne.

L’Inconnue de la Seine, who died more than a century ago, but is now recognized as the serene face of CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), Resusci Anne. 




Looking at these faces, there’s a macabre sense of immortality. The eternal slumbering expressions that these death masks possess make it seem as if the individuals will wake up at any given moment. They will forever be timeless in their own curious way.





Get a copy of my novel, The Spirit Within on Amazon!

~ Sheila Renee Parker on Twitter: @sheilarparker.

~ Sheila Renee Parker on Facebook: Sheila Renee Parker โ€“ Author

~ Sheila Renee Parker on Instagram: @sheilareneeparker

~ Art by Sheila Renee Parker available at:




10 thoughts on “Masking the Dead

  1. Interesting topic. I am glad I happened across this article. It is funny how last night my daughter out of the blue exclaimed that she wants to be stuffed by a taxidermist when she dies rather than buried or cremated. I think it is quite odd of her… but then she did get the words “Pretty Odd” tattooed on her wrist. lol Maybe this could be a good compromise to think about?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thatโ€™s very interesting. Itโ€™s kind of like how people would take pictures with the dead bodies of their loved ones.

    Kind of sentimental and respectful in my opinion. If my three kids want to do that when I die then I am all about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is horrific.I can’t believe you posted this stuff. Oh my.

    No really, interesting topic. Your audience may like this post on my site:

    Liked by 1 person

      • A lot of people find it interesting, and it annoys others. Oh well. You should see the comments I get from people that I delete. The vitriol hurled at me is quite substantial and comical at times. I just shrug it off, which annoys some people even more.

        I get way more positive comments though.

        For some reason this response didn’t go through so you may see repeats. Just disregard the repeats.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s all about the positive vibes…. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Can’t let negativity get to ya… I think it makes small-minded people feel superior when they feel the need to be derogatory. I just ignore them. I don’t tolerate any negativity at all.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s