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The death masks of Napoleon

Death mask of Napoleon I. Ajaccio, Musée Fesch
Death mask of Napoleon I. Ajaccio, Musée Fesch

Historians have written reams of pages about the status of the body of the sovereign as an object of special devotion, bordering on religion and invested with thaumaturgic qualities. The body of Napoleon, one of the most resplendent among mythical sovereigns, in life and in death, could scarcely be an exception, as demonstrated by the numerous death masks, often of dubious authenticity, preserved as part of the heritage of the cities that enjoyed a role in this myth.
These masks are plaster impressions of the face of the emperor Napoleon shortly after his death in 1821. They have taken the name of one of the three physicians who would have been in a position to take the impression: Archibald Arnott, Francis Burton and Francois Antommarchi. Some of these masks began to appear on the market starting in 1833.
Unsurprisingly, one of these masks is found in Ajaccio, in the Fesch museum, made in bronze according to the Antommarchi model.
The city of Portoferraio houses two of the Emperor’s death masks: a plaster cast, kept in the Pinacoteca Foresiana, and a bronze effigy, produced in 1841 by the Susse brothers, founders based in Paris, and later donated by Prince Anatole Demidoff, the husband of Napoleon’s niece, to the Confraternita della Misericordia in Portoferraio, together with the funerary urn. Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask portrays a worn face with lowered eyelids, a fine, aquiline nose and partly open mouth.
Another death mask is housed in San Miniato, at the Accademia degli Euteleti, but in this case it has been suggested that the cast was made while Napoleon was alive, and rather young at that, and so by his own request.

Death mask of Napoleon I
Musée Fesch
Rue Cardinal Fesch, 50–52

The museum is open according to the following schedule
From 1 October to 30 April: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM; Thursday, Friday and the third Sunday of the month from 12 PM to 5 PM.
From 2 May to 30 September: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10.30 AM to 6 PM; Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM; Thursdays during the month of August, the museum remains open until 8.30 PM
Day of closure: Tuesdays.
The museum is closed on the following holidays: 25 December, 1 January, 1 November, 11 November, 18 March, Easter Sunday, 1 May.

Admission ticket: full 8.00 euros; reduced 5.00 euros; reduced for tourism operators partnered with the museum 4 euros.


Death mask of Napoleon
Pinacoteca foresiana – Centro Culturale De Laugier
Salita Napoleone
Portoferraio (LI)

Death mask of Napoleon I
Accademia degli Euteleti of San Miniato
Via XX Settembre 21
San Miniato (Pisa)

Book visit: 0571 - 42598 / ufficimusei@comunesanminiato.pi.it