Submitted by Jayne.Sutcliffe on Thu, 04/09/2020 - 09:55

Death has been, and may always be, shrouded in a veil of fear and curiosity. All civilizations throughout time have honoured the passing of an individual in numerous ways, death masks being one. Over the centuries these masks have taken many forms and had various uses. The were made with a spiritual use in mind originally, like those used by the ancient Egyptians. The most famous of these is the gold funerary mask which was found on the mummified remains of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamen. The use of this mask was so that the spirit of the individual could identify their body when they passed into the next world after death.

By the middle Ages, they became less of a spiritual commodity and simply a way of preserving the physical likeness of the dead. In a time before photography this would be as close to a true resemblance as you might get. The resemblance of the individual was created for more than just memory in some cases. Some were made if the individual was important or was a well known criminal, medical research, and to identify unknown individuals.
Some of the most famous death masks include Beethoven, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ned Kelly, Vladimir Lenin, Issac Newton, Maximilian Robespierre, Burke & Hare and Oliver Cromwell.

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, where a wax impression of his face was taken; he was then buried in Westminster Abbey. When the Royalists returned to power he was exhumed, hung in chains and beheaded! His death mask was then used to make effigies - life size representations which were ceremonially burned or beheaded in protest. So it is safe to say his mask was not made in loving memory!

Tipperary Museum has a copy of Cromwell's Death mask on display. It allows you to look into the face of the man who, 350 years ago laid siege to many towns in Ireland, including Clonmel.

The original wax mask can be view on the British Museum website.

Oliver Cromwell's Death Mask