Historic figures whose younger faces can be recreated using death masks

Researchers have recreated the face of an 18th century pretender to the British throne with the help of a death mask. But what other historic figures could have their younger likenesses reconstructed in a similar way?

A team from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at the University of Dundee in Scotland recently recreated the face of Charles Edward, the Young Pretender—also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Catholic prince was born in Rome, modern-day Italy, in 1720 to the exiled Stuart King James III of England and Ireland, and VIII of Scotland.

The young pretender is known for his unsuccessful attempt to restore his father to the British throne in the so-called Jacobite rebellion of 1745-1746.

The reconstruction of a young Bonnie Prince Charlie. Several notable historical figures are known to have death masks.
Barbora Veselá / University of Dundee

The prince arrived with an army in Scotland in July 1745. But despite some initial successes, he was defeated by government forces at the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in April 1746.

He subsequently fled to France and spent the rest of his life on the European continent, dying in his birthplace of Rome at the age of 67.

Following his death, a cast of the Prince’s face was taken, as was common practice for notable figures at the time.

The team from Dundee examined two death masks created from this cast, in order to recreate a likeness of the Prince when he was just 24 years old—his age at the start of the Jacobite rebellion.

Barbora Veselá, a master’s student at Dundee who initiated the project, told Newsweek about the process of recreating the “de-aged” version of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s face.

First, Veselá visited two death masks of Prince Charlie. One is being kept in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, which the student scanned with a precision scanner to create a 3D model of the object.

For the other, housed in the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Veselá captured several images in order to create the 3D model.

She then compared the models with each other, as well as images of another death mask, housed in the West Highland Museum in Fort William, to assess any potential differences.

Veselá then applied knowledge of the aging process on the human face to recreate a younger version of the Prince through digital sculpting software.

Finally, she had that 3D-printed and created the physical reconstruction by applying modeling wax, oil paints, hair and clothing.

In principle, Veselá said it would be possible to apply the same techniques to other historic figures that have death masks to create younger versions of their likenesses. She said Mary, Queen of Scots would be one that she would consider recreating.

“I was thinking that Mary, Queen of Scots would be an interesting figure to reconstruct because there are two death masks and they both look quite different,” Veselá told Newsweek.

Below are four more famous historic figures, including Mary, who are known to have death masks:

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military commander and political leader who conquered large swathes of Europe in the 19th century. Napoleon rose through the ranks of the military during the French Revolution and seized political power in a 1799 coup. He is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history and his political reforms left a lasting mark on the institutions of France, as well as much of western Europe. He died on the remote island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic, where he had been exiled by the British, at the age of 51.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer who is considered to be among the greatest in the history of Western music. Beethoven was the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras. He composed some of his most important works during the last years of his life when he was affected by deafness. He died at the age of 56 after being struck by an illness.

Dante (1265-1321)

Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet, writer, philosopher and political thinker. He is best known for the epic poem The Divine Comedy, which is widely considered one of the most important works of medieval European literature. He died of malaria at the age of 56.

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

Mary, Queen of Scots was a queen of Scotland (1542–67) and, briefly, queen consort of France (1559–60). Mary was forced to flee to England following a rebellion among Scottish nobles. There she was imprisoned for around 19 years by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who saw Mary as a threat to the English throne. She was beheaded on the orders of Elizabeth at the age of 44.

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