Death masks are an eerie glimpse into the final moments of life. These detailed sculptures of prominent historical figures were made immediately after death to capture the face’s exact likeness. Death and mourning rituals can be strange. For example, in the 19th century, people practiced weird mourning rituals, such as wearing jewelry made from dead people’s hair. Death masks are no exception.
The oldest death mask might be those worn by Egyptian Pharaohs like King Tut, but the more exact versions of the face featured on this list became popular after the 14th century, until photography eventually replaced the practice.
What is a death mask? It is essentially a mold of a dead person's face. They are made by packing clay or wax on the face of a dead body, and then using the negative cast of the face to produce multiple copies of the death mask. Starting in the 14th century, death masks were preserved for their historic value or used to create sculptures and busts of the deceased. As such, death masks were often reserved for royalty and notable people, such as scientific genius Isaac Newton and notorious mobster John Dillinger.