Napoleon Death Masks

At the Napoleon birthday celebration at Fort Myer, Napoleon Historical Society member Vince Hawkins displayed his plaster death mask of the Emperor.  It’s been authenticated as one of only a hundred struck from the original that the attending doctor, Dr Antommarchi, created two days after Napoleon’s death in 1821.

 

Napoleonic death masks appear in museums from Paris to Louisiana to Havana to Mexico City to Napoleon’s own death room on St Helena.  Some are bronze, some copper, others plaster.  Some are of questionable authenticity.  Above on the left is the mask from St Helena, and on the right, the one I saw at Fort Myer.  Last March, in Napoleon’s hometown of Ajaccio, Corsica, I saw five others.

There’s controversy whether Dr Antommarchi’s mask failed and a second one molded by a British doctor, Francis Burton, became the original.  Some sources claim General Bertrand’s wife, Fanny, stole Dr Burton’s mask and gave it to Antommarchi. However, as Napoleon’s valet Marchand reports in his well-trusted memoir, “Dr Burton had procured the necessary plaster.  Dr Antommarchi, helped by him and by Archambault [a coachman] who held up the Emperor’s head, made the mask in our presence.  It turned out well.” *

Although death masks seem macabre today, it was not unusual for famous people, in particular, to have one made.  That may be the only thing Lenin, Alfred Hitchcock, James Joyce, Beethoven, and John Dillinger have in common.

(*Excerpt from In Napoleon’s Shadow, Louis-Joseph Marchand’s memoirs produced by Proctor Jones.)

17 Comments

  • September 1, 2011 - 6:39 am | Permalink

    Hi, Margaret. We seem to have the same fascination-Napoleon. I’ve read extensively on Napoleon since I was a young girl. I read Betsy’s original “Recollection” at the Library of Congress.

    I finally wrote a novel about Napoleon’s exile on St. Helena, Elysium, from his and a servant woman’s point of view. After ten years of rejection, it was finally published last April by a very small press.
    I saw your review in the NHS newsletter and had to check out your blog.

  • mrodenberg
    September 1, 2011 - 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Diane. Nice to meet you! I just visited your website and read more about your book. I’ll order it from Amazon today. We should keep in touch. Are you planning to attend the Napoleonic Historical Society conference in Baltimore in September?

  • Beverley Heffernan
    April 22, 2013 - 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Margaret. I have just stumbled across your site because I have a recently inherited Napoleon ‘death mask’ of sorts- it is a numbered reproduction and is inscribed ‘L Marchand’ so I’m just sleuthing a bit. It does not resemble the above examples- eyes are open and he is sporting a hat- but my Dad (and a family friend who owned it until his death) always referred to it as a death mask.

  • mrodenberg
    April 26, 2013 - 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Beverley,

    That’s interesting, but it doesn’t sound like one of the official death masks. Louis Marchand was Napoleon’s trusted valet in St Helena. Would you like to send me a photo? If so, I’d be happy to tell you if I recognize it.

    Good luck with your research.

    Margaret

  • December 11, 2013 - 7:31 am | Permalink

    I
    Hi, margret’ iam extensive reader of napoleon’ and iam searching for online version of napoleons trusted valet marchand ‘ in napoleon’s shadow ‘. Can u kindly help me to have link or webpage where i could find the free download.

  • mrodenberg
    December 22, 2013 - 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Sajjad. I don’t think it’s available on-line. It was self-published by Proctor Jones Publishing Company in 1998. Inside my hard copy, there’s an address and phone number but no website: 3625 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94118, telephone: 414-922-9222. Hope that helps. It’s a wonderful book.

    Margaret

  • Beverley Heffernan
    October 30, 2014 - 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Hi Margaret, I just now discovered that you responded to my post long ago. I would like to send you a photo, what is the best way to do that?

  • mrodenberg
    October 31, 2014 - 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Send it to my email at m.a.rodenberg@gmail.com. I’m looking forward to it.

  • Alex Colonna walewski Montague
    November 23, 2014 - 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I obtained a napolean death mask from the estate of Count Rudolph Almeida in 2007 here in Miami where he had a home as well. He was a great art collector and had marble busts of napolean and other items. It is plaster and looks exactly as the one that just sold in England with the coin. But more interesting is a worn label that is hand signed by the good doctor antommarchi. Who can I have this authenticated by. I am here in Miami.
    My email is cameoking@aol.com. If you send me your email I will send u pics

  • mrodenberg
    November 24, 2014 - 11:03 am | Permalink

    Hello, Alex. That’s a beautiful piece. I’m afraid that I’m not an expert in this area. I suggest that you place a comment on the Napoleonic Historical Society’s Facebook page asking for expertise. About 2000 people are members on the page so you’re likely to get a response. Include a photo. Your post will have to be approved by the administrator before it shows up, but they are generally quick. Let me know the results. If you read the other entries on that Facebook page (or mine) you’ll run across other organizations you might want to contact. Also, you could try http://www.napoleon.org. It’s a Paris-based foundation and might be able to help you. You can click on “In English” near the top of their website to translate the page.

    Good luck. Hope you enjoyed FindingNapoleon.com.

    Margaret

  • Alex Montague
    November 25, 2014 - 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Do you have contact information of the individual in the article above that had his mask authenticated thank you again……Napoleon Historical Society member Vince Hawkins

  • mrodenberg
    November 26, 2014 - 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Alex. Sorry, I don’t have Vince Hawkins’ contact information. I met him on that day in 2011 and haven’t seen him since. Give me a few days (we’re in the midst of Thanksgivings holidays) and I’ll see if anyone else I know has it. I do think that contacting Napoleon.org is a good idea. Good luck with this!
    Margaret

  • Beverley Heffernan
    November 28, 2014 - 9:53 am | Permalink

    Hi Margaret, just following up to see if you received the photo I emailed about a month ago?

  • mrodenberg
    December 1, 2014 - 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Beverley, I didn’t get it. Try emailing it to m.a.rodenberg at gmail.com. (Replace the at with @). Please do send it again!

    Margaret

  • Beverley Heffernan
    December 10, 2014 - 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Margaret,

    I have just re-sent the photo, I had your name misspelled in the prior message!

  • Dottie Denena
    October 24, 2017 - 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I just came across your site, and taking a chance to see if it is still active. My family has a death mask bronze plaster with Dr. Antommarchi etched name and looks like a seal in throat? Dated on inside with initials when it came to USA? I too like others trying to find out how to authcenticate? Would you inform me if you want a picture of ours? It has been in our family since 1940’s. Thanks so much and praying you reply!

  • mrodenberg
    November 1, 2017 - 11:26 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry but I’m not qualified to comment on the authenticity of your death mask. If it’s authentic–a cast from one of the originals, it could be worth a good bit. You might go to the Facebook page for the Napoleonic Historical Society and ask if anyone has suggestions for who might evaluate it. It always helps if you have papers that describe its “provenance.” That’s where it came from and who owned it, etc. This link should get you to the Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/groups/nhsmembersforum/. Also you could try the Napoleonic Historical Society’s own webpage here: https://napoleonichistoricalsociety.org. No one there will actually authenticate it for you, but they might have suggestions. Good luck! I hope you have a valuable item on your hands.

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