Life and death masks

Watch sculptor Nick Reynolds demonstrate how to make a life mask and the techniques involved in this process.

An audio-described version of this film is available.

 

Here's a selection of life and death masks from our Collection. Explore the full list.

    Oliver Cromwell,    by Unknown artist,    possibly late 17th century,    NPG 4025,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Oliver Cromwell
by Unknown artist
plaster cast of death-mask, possibly late 17th century
14 5/8 in. x 7 7/8 in. (370 mm x 200 mm) overall
NPG 4025
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Sir Isaac Newton,    by Unknown artist,    based on a work of circa 1727,    NPG 2081,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Sir Isaac Newton
by Unknown artist
iron cast of death-mask, based on a work of circa 1727
7 3/4 in. x 5 3/4 in. (197 mm x 146 mm)
NPG 2081
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Samuel Johnson,    by William Cumberland Cruikshank, and  James Hoskins,    1784,    NPG 4685,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Samuel Johnson
by William Cumberland Cruikshank, and James Hoskins
plaster cast of bust incorporating death-mask, 1784
24 1/2 in. (622 mm) high
NPG 4685
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    John Keats,    by Benjamin Robert Haydon,    1816,    NPG 686,    © National Portrait Gallery, London John Keats
by Benjamin Robert Haydon
plaster cast of life-mask, 1816
9 5/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (245 mm x 150 mm) overall
NPG 686
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Sir Thomas Lawrence,    by Unknown artist,    1830,    NPG 1634,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Sir Thomas Lawrence
by Unknown artist
plaster cast of death-mask, 1830
18 1/8 in. x 12 5/8 in. (460 mm x 320 mm) overall
NPG 1634
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    John Constable,    by Samuel Joseph,    1958, based on a work of 1837,    NPG 4063,    © National Portrait Gallery, London John Constable
by Samuel Joseph
bronze cast of death-mask, 1958, based on a work of 1837
10 in. (254 mm) high
NPG 4063
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,    by George Gammon Adams,    1852,    NPG 2155a,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
by George Gammon Adams
plaster cast of death-mask, 1852
9 3/8 in. (238 mm) high
NPG 2155a
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    William Makepeace Thackeray,    by Domenico Brucciani,        NPG 1501,    © National Portrait Gallery, London William Makepeace Thackeray
by Domenico Brucciani
plaster cast of death-mask (and right hand)
8 1/2 in. x 6 1/2 in. (216 mm x 164 mm) overall
NPG 1501
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Dante Gabriel Rossetti,    by D Brucciani & Co,    1882,    NPG 1699,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Dante Gabriel Rossetti
by D Brucciani & Co
plaster cast of head incorporating death-mask, 1882
12 in. x 5 7/8 in. (305 mm x 150 mm) overall
NPG 1699
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    George Frederic Watts,    by Enrico Cantoni,    1904,    NPG 5283,    © National Portrait Gallery, London George Frederic Watts
by Enrico Cantoni
painted plaster, 1904
13 1/4 in. (337 mm)
NPG 5283
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    George Wyndham,    by Unknown artist,    1913,    NPG 3814,    © National Portrait Gallery, London George Wyndham
by Unknown artist
plaster cast of death-mask, 1913
14 1/2 in. (368 mm)
NPG 3814
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Ellen Terry,    by Margaret Winser,    1928,    NPG 3657,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Ellen Terry
by Margaret Winser
plaster cast of death-mask, 1928
8 7/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (225 mm x 150 mm) overall
NPG 3657
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield,    by Robert Glassby, cast by  John Theodore Tussaud,    1933, based on a work of 1881,    NPG 2655,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield
by Robert Glassby, cast by John Theodore Tussaud
wax cast of death-mask, 1933, based on a work of 1881
14 1/2 in. (368 mm) high
NPG 2655
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    George Moore,    by L. Godon,    1933,    NPG 2622,    Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London George Moore
by L. Godon
plaster cast of death-mask, 1933
9 1/2 in. (241 mm) high
NPG 2622
Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London
    Sir Edwin Lutyens,    by Unknown artist,    1944,    NPG 3192,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Sir Edwin Lutyens
by Unknown artist
bronze death-mask, 1944
11 3/4 in. (298 mm) high
NPG 3192
© National Portrait Gallery, London