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Mortality

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Before the invention of photography, people needed a different method of commemorating the faces of the deceased. They could paint them of course – but for the elites getting a death mask sculptured was all the rage. And Napoleon was not a man to be out done on any front, let alone this, his remaining likeness for eternity. His was made on 7 May 1821, a day and a half after the former emperor died on the island of St Helena at age 51.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ Of course the entire process of making of Napoleons mask was mired in controversy from the beginning. Historians aren’t even sure who cast the actual original mask (from which many bronze copies have been made subsequently) – the emperor’s actual personal doctor (Antommarchi) or a British surgeon who was also present at the autopsy (Burton). Although both were present it isn’t even agreed upon as to who even conducted said autopsy!⁣ ⁣ ⁣ A third theory about the mask is that Madame Bertrand, Napoleon’s attendant, managed to steal pieces of the mold created by Burton, leaving him with only the ears and the back of the head. Some people believe that Madame Bertrand gave the mask to Antommarchi a year after she allegedly stole it and it made it’s way to Lord Burghersh, the British ambassador to Florence. Today this mask and resides in the Musée de l’Armée in Paris.⁣ ⁣ ⁣ What struck me most about this mask – lying solemnly in a room at Longwood House, where Napoleon lived out his last years – was its incredibly sadness. The writers of the story and I were invited for dinner at Longwood House – at Napoleons table….the first time this has ever been allowed. It was in the neighboring room to his mask. And while the dinner was a surreal experience in and of itself – with the honorary French consul our delightful host and flowing laughter, the obligatory Vin de Constance that the emperor enjoyed so much, locally caught seared tuna served on fine china with busts of Josephine and other family members looking on…I couldn’t help but think of this mask in the next room…⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ This is Samantha Reinders (@samreinders). I hope you’ve had as much fun reading and looking at these photos – outtakes from my assignment to St Helena Island.

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