The Hutton Death Masks of Marat, Mirabeau and Robespierre




Following my recent post on the Laurence Hutton Collection of Death Masks, here are Marat, Mirabeau and Robespierre with an extract from Hutton’s own account of the collection in Portraits in Plaster from the Collection of Laurence Hutton.

A clever Frenchman said not long since, in the Paris Gaulois, that the Pantheon is nothing but a Grand Hotel, in which the distinguished guests find a temporary lodging-place, and then, like other transients, give up their rooms to somebody else. Mirabeau, Marat, Rousseau, and Voltaire boarded there for a time, and then surrendered their apartments, which are now occupied by Victor Hugo and a few men of no literary, artistic, or political importance ; all of whom will, no doubt, in their turn, and before many years, be forced to find some second- class pension, where the rates are lower and the service is bad. 

It was discovered lately that Mirabeau had again changed his quarters, and that his present address cannot be ascertained. He was carried in great pomp, and with many porters and in many ‘busses, to the Pantheon, in 1791 ; but with Marat he was “de-Pantheonized by order of the National Convention ” a year or two later. Marat’s body was thrown into a common sewer in the Rue Montmartre ; that of Mirabeau was placed, with no pomp whatever, in the cemetery of Saint-Marcel, the criminals’ burying-ground, where, now that it is wanted once more this time for honorable disposal it cannot be found. Mirabeau’s is the face of a man perfectly satisfied with his own achievements and with his own personal appearance. He believed, and he was courageous enough to say, that pure physical beauty in man could only exist in a face which was pitted with small-pox, his own being so marked ! And he looks here as if his last thought in life had been one of profound admiration for himself. An eye-witness of his funeral said to one of his biographers that, ” except a single trace of physical suffering, one perceived with emotion the most noble calm and the sweetest smile upon that face, which seemed enwrapped in a living sleep, and occupied with an agreeable dream.” 

Marat and Robespierre are among the most enigmatical productions of a very enigmatical movement. During their lives they were not very beautiful in conduct nor very amiable in character; but the casts taken of their faces after their uncomfortable deaths are quiet and peaceful, and the effect they produce is one of loving rather than loathing. In the mask of each the cerebral development is small, especially in the region of the frontal bone; and phrenological experts who have examined them say that their development, or lack of development, taken with their facial traits, indicates ill-balanced minds. 

Marat’s face, as David painted him, is that of a North-American Indian with a white skin. The contemporary portraits of Robespierre, on the other hand, represent a mild-mannered man of severe and pensive expression. According to Lamartine, “his forehead was good, but small, and projecting over the temples, as if enlarged by the mass and embarrassed movements of his thoughts. His eyes, much veiled by their lids, and very sharp at the extremities, were deeply buried in the cavities of their orbits ; they were of a soft blue color. His nose, straight and small, was very wide at the nostrils, which were high and too expanded. His mouth was large, his lips thin and disagreeably contracted at each corner, his chin small and pointed. His complexion was yellow and livid. The habitual expression of his face was the superficial serenity of a grave mind, and a smile wavering betwixt sarcasm and sweetness. There was softness, but of a sinister character. The dominant characteristic of his countenance was the prodigious and continued tension of brow, eyes, mouth, and all the facial muscles.” 

The masks of Mirabeau, Marat, and Robespierre are known to have been taken, in each case, after death, ” by order of the National Assembly.” Those of Marat and Robespierre in my collection are identical with the wax effigies in the ” Chamber of Horrors ” in Madame Tussaud’s gallery in London, her catalogue asserting that they are “authentic;” and very fine casts of Mirabeau and Marat are in the Musee Carnavalet in Paris, the latter hanging under David’s portrait of Marat, painted from nature immediately after the assassination.

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