A death mask is a cast made of a person’s face once they have died. Mainly as a memento of the person who had died, they were sometimes used as the basis for a sculpture or portrait made after the person’s death. The Hunterian has several death masks in its collection including this one of the French author and philosopher Voltaire, produced c.1778. In the 18th and 19th century masks were used in physiognomy (the attempt to analyse a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance). It was thought that this might provide insights into famous people and it was also used for anthropological research of other cultures. Since the late 19th century making death masks has fallen out of favour and is now considered rather morbid.


© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

Museum reference


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