Death masks are wax or plastic casts made of a person’s face following their death. This is achieved by taking a direct cast of their corpse once they are deceased. The masks typically serve as a memento for their surviving loved ones, or to create a portrait of the person, though it varies by culture.

While the practice of making death masks may seem ancient, it is still practiced in certain cultures to this day. In fact, many of history’s most memorable figures have had them made.

Here, we’ve gathered the death masks of 25 historical figures. Some of them are easy to identify, while others are barely recognizable…

1. German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1827.  He was an important figure in the transition from classical and Romantic eras of Western music. He died at the age of 56, presumably from liver damage from heavy alcohol consumption.


2. Famed political and military figure who rose to fame during the French revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte lived from 1769 to 1821. He also led successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. It is presumed that he died from a gastric cancer at the age of 51.


3. Oliver Cromwell, who prior to becoming known as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was an English political and military figure who lived between 1599 and 1658. It is believed that he died from septicemia at the age of 59 following a urinary infection.


4. American actor James Dean’s name has become synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood films. While he appeared older, the cultural icon only lived from 1931 to 1955. He was tragically involved in a fatal car crash and died from his injuries when he was just 24 years old.


5. First Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, FRS, Benjamin Disraeli lived from 1804 to 1881. The famous British politician served two terms as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He died when he was 76 years old from a battle with severe bronchitis. 


6. While Benjamin Franklin had many professions during his lifetime, he is, perhaps, best known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He lived from 1706 to 1790. He passed away at the age of 84 years old from a fight with pleurisy.


7. The former and last titled King of Prussia, Frederick the Great lived between 1712 and 1786. He holds the title for the longest reign of any Hohenzollern (1740-1786) at 46 years. His cause of death was never officially ruled, though, he lived to be 74 years old. 


8. Eighteenth President of the United States and commanding general Ulysses S. Grant lived from 1822 to 1885. He is also known for having led the Union Army to a victory over the Confederates in the American Civil War. He died from a battle with throat cancer when he was 63.


9. After taking the crown in August 1485, Henry VII was the King of England and the first monarch of the House of Tudor until his death, though, he had many other titles during his lifetime. He lived from 1457 to 1509.  He died from a battle with tuberculosis when he was 52 years old.


10. A high-ranking German Nazi official, as well as one of many architects of the Holocaust during World War II, Reinhard Heydrich lived between the years of 1904 and 1942. He died from severe wounds suffered during a bomb attack when he was 38.


11. One of many leading members of the Nazi Party of Nazi Germany Heinrich Himmler lived between the years of 1900 and 1945. He killed himself with a dose of cyanide poisoning when he was just 44 years old. His death mask is practically unrecognizable, too.


12. English writer Samuel Johnson, also known as Dr. Johnson, lived between the years of 1709 and 1784. He was a renowned essayist, editor, biographer, poet, literary critic, and moralist during his lifetime. He died from heart failure when he was 75.


13. An Australian bushranger that was actually of Irish decent, Ned Kelly lived between the years of 1855 and 1880. He has become one of Australia’s most famous figures in history. Kelly was killed during an execution by hanging when he was a mere 25 years old.


14. Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 to 1865, Robert E. Lee lived between 1807 and 1870. Following a stroke, he lost his life to a bout of pneumonia in Lexington, Virginia when he was 63 years old. 


15. Russian communist revolutionary, political theorist, and politician Vladimir Lenin lived between the years of 1870 and 1924. It is presumed that he died from a battle with the sexually transmitted disease syphilis when he was just 53 years old.


16. German composer, priest, monk, and professor of theology, Martin Luther lived between the years of 1483 and 1546. He was an important figure in Protestant reformation and suffered an apoplectic stroke when he was 62 years old, resulting in his death.


17. First Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté KB Horatio Nelson lived from 1758 to 1805. Additionally, he served as a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He died from wounds inflicted by a gunshot while participating in battle when he was 47 years old.


18. English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and one of the most influential scientists in history, Isaac Newton lived from 1642 to 1727. He was also one of the most prominent figures in scientific revolution. He died from a kidney stone when he was 84 years old.


19. French politician and lawyer Maximilien Robespierre lived between the years 1758 and 1794. He is, perhaps, best known as one of the most influential people from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. He was executed by beheading when he was 36.


20. During World War II, Erwin Rommel was field marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany. He is typically best known as “Desert Fox” and lived between the years of 1891 and 1944.  He was forced to commit suicide by cyanide poisoning when he was 52 years old.


21. Twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt lived between 1858 and 1919. He was also known as a soldier, an author, an explorer, a statesman, and a naturalist. He died from a blood clot in one of his lungs when he was 60 years old.


22. Businessman, author, and American soldier William T. Sherman lived between the years of 1820 and 1891. He was famously known as General of the Union Army during the American Civil War. His cause of death is unknown, though, he was 71 years old.


23. Perhaps, best known for the beautiful operas which he solely wrote, German composer, polemicist, and theater director Richard Wagner lived between the years of 1813 and 1883. He died from heart failure when he was 69.


24. A field marshal and leading military figure of Britain during the 19th century, Arthur Wellesley, also known as the Duke of Wellington lived between the years of 1769 and 1852. Following a stroke, he had a bout of epilepsy which ultimately resulted in his death at 83 years old.


25.  As the 28th President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson lived between the years of 1856 and 1924. He was also known to people as an academic and a politician. Following a stroke, he =died from heart failure when he was 67 years old.


These masks are just another way humans have learned to cope with loss and understand death. To think that so many famous historical figures had them cast definitely makes them interesting.

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