Filippo Brunelleschi 1377-1446
On our trip to Italy in Sept/Oct 2006, we visited the Museo dell-opera del Duomo. There were many fascinating things in this museum. One the the things I was taken by was Brunelleschi’s Death Mask. I wasn’t sure why I was so moved by this mask. I didn’t even know what a death mask was. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
In Western cultures a death mask is a wax or plaster cast made of a person’s face following death. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits. It is sometimes possible to identify portraits that have been painted from death masks, because of the characteristic slight distortions of the features caused by the weight of the plaster during the making of the mold. In other cultures a death mask may be a clay or other artifact placed on the face of the deceased before burial rites. The best known of these are the masks used by ancient Egyptians as part of the mummification process, such as Tutankhamon’s burial mask.
In the seventeenth century in some European countries, it was common for death masks to be used as part of the effigy of the deceased, displayed at state funerals. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were also used to permanently record the features of unknown corpses for purposes of identification. This function was later replaced by photography.
Proponents of phrenology and ethnography also used both death masks and life masks (taken from living subjects) for scientific and pseudoscientific purposes.



  1. Very interesting post. I didn’t know about death masks either, although I’ve seen them before. The photo is very cool and haunting.

  2. Interesting post Cindy. I guess I never thought about death masks, even though I have seen them before, thanks for the info.

  3. There really is something moving about that death mask.
    I love Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, isn’t it such a hidden gem?

  4. Cindy – I confess to be fascinated by the concept of death masks. I had never heard of them prior to reading Dante’s Numbers by David Hewson (the book starts with the theft of Dante’s death mask). For us it is a strange concept but in another 300 years I am sure many of our current ‘practices’ will seem rather unusual as well.