A Rare 19thC Infant Death Mask in a Large Period Glass Dome


Origin: English
Period: Mid/Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1860-1890
Circumference of Head: 17 inches (at maximum)
Height of Head: 4.5 inches
Dome Height: 19.5 inches

The life size infant thick plaster moulded death mask of an infant housed in a large period glass dome on ebonised base survives from the middle to late Victorian period.

In original condition the mask does not suffer from any chips or cracks and as such is presented in superb overall order. The piece’s density places it somewhere in between parian ware and plaster.  When looking inside the head we can see the bonded line where the two pieces were joined together after casting. The glass dome is of the same period as the mask and is made from quality blown glass though we are unsure if it is original, or associated to, the mask itself. It is disproportionably large for the mask but this only serves to give it more presence.

Unlike pieces used for phrenological and medical study, this examples eyes are shut, the head fleshy, and thus it represents a likeness with physical or recognisable traits rather than a bone skull mapping the zones of the brain making it a cast death mask of an infant.

Death masks are an impression or cast of the face of a deceased person, usually made by oiling the skin and taking a plaster cast of the features, and are the most haunting mementos of the deceased. They have been in existence since the time of Tutankhamun, whose solid gold burial mask is an object of extreme beauty and superstition. Such masks could be used either in a funerary effigy or as a model for a posthumous portrait. It was important that a death mask was made as soon as possible after death so that the character of the deceased was captured before the features started to fall. Infant, child or baby masks are far more scarce than adult examples and this particular mask is similar to the historic death bust of the first baby in the world delivered with the use of ether anaesthetic by James Young Simpson in 1847.

This is a unique piece, fleshed out from the grave, bringing to life the powerful last impressions of an unnamed, but truly loved infant and as such it is both somber and sad but touching and heartfelt and above all hauntingly beautiful.