A Sculptural 19thC Death Mask on Integral Pedestal

Origin: English
Period: Mid-Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1830-60
Height: 11.25 inches
Base Diameter: 4.5 inches
Width: 6.5 inches (at extremity)

The life size parian ware (?) moulded half-round death mask of a middle-aged male, the reverse stamped ‘D rusiel’ (?) 120’ on an integral plinth socle base survives from the early to middle Victorian period.

In good original condition the mask only suffers from a handful of chips, which are predominantly to the base, and as such is presented in sound overall order. The piece’s density sees it more likely to be in parian ware than plaster as it is rather light.

There is a possibility that this mask is of someone well known, and it could be either part of an edition of a series of masks (this one numbered 120) or it could just as easily be a standalone piece and marked 120 for other reasons. We cannot find anything in our research when searching for d rusiel, d russel, or other variations and there are not many death masks that have been sold that are half bust masks on pedestals. Usually half rounds are wall mounted and aren’t therefore set onto pedestals, whilst more commonly full head casts are set on pedestals instead.

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.

A very sculptural and attractive example of a macabre decorative piece, and with some undoubted mystery remaining, making good for intrigue.