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Wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell
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Many cultures have made masks representing the dead but from the medieval period in Europe, masks were made from actual casts of the face of the deceased. When a famous person died, a death mask was often made as a record of how they looked. An initial cast provided a mould from which plaster or wax masks could be taken. These were widely distributed through private and public collections and also used as models for posthumous portraits.

This death mask of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was originally owned by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), whose collection contributed to the founding of the British Museum. It was taken after embalming and shows the cloth bound around the head to cover the cincture. The face has a beard and moustache, but Cromwell's famous wart has either been pared off or has disappeared due to the action of the embalming fluid. Several casts of Cromwell's death mask exist. Although the identification of this example has been questioned, it certainly entered the Museum as a representation of Cromwell.

Wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell


From England, AD 1658-1753
L. 21.3 cm
W. 16.2 cm
Bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane



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