Napoleon Boneparte died on May 5th, 1821, on the small island of St. Helena located in the South Atlantic Ocean. He had been exiled for life to this island after his shattering defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was 51 years old at the time of his death. In keeping with the custom at that time for great leaders, a mold was made of Napoleon's face shortly after his passing. Here is where the story gets interesting...
A cast was made by Dr. Francis Burton approximately a day and a half after Napoleon died. But, there was another doctor present at the time of Napoleon’s death, Dr. Antommarchi, who some say was mistakenly credited as the doctor who made the original mold. Immediately after the cast was made, it was stolen. It is believed that a woman named Madame Bertrand, Napoleon’s attendant, took the cast and sailed back to England. Dr. Burton tried but was unsuccessful in getting the cast back.
Several years later a death mask turned up. It was authenticated by Dr. Antommarchi as the original mask of Napoleon. Some experts on Napoleonic history argue against the authenticity of this mask. This “Antommarchi” mask had a youthful look and the shape of the face was bigger and proportionally different when compared to the portraits that had been painted of the Emperor Napoleon. It is the official mask currently on display at Les Invalides in Paris, France, and it is located in close proximity to the sarcophagus containing the supposed remains of Napoleon Bonaparte. Some say that this death mask was molded from the face of the Emperor’s valet, Jean-Baptiste Cipriani.
Cast created of Napoleon by Dr. Burton
Painted by artist Sir Charles Lock Eastlake
Count Alexandre Joseph Colonna-Walewski
There is another mask that some historians believe to be the authentic one made from the mold created by Dr. Burton. The “RUSI” mask which stands for the “Royal United Services Institute,” was on display in this small military museum in London for years until 1973, when the museum closed and the mask was sold.
At the request of the owner of this mask, I performed a detailed analysis. This mask does not show the face of a young man, but portrays the countenance of a man of similar age and proportion to the last known portrait painted of the Emperor while he was enroute to the island of St. Helena (The portrait was done by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake on board the ship "Bellerophon"). The proportional similarities between the RUSI Mask and the portrait painted by Eastlake on board the ship cannot be discounted or overlooked.
To take the analysis of the RUSI mask one step further, there are proportional similarities to Napoleon's descendant, his son, Count Alexandre Joseph Colonna-Walewski. There are those who believe that the bodies were switched and the remains inside the sarcophagus at Les Invalides are not of Napoleon, but those of his valet. Who would have made this switch and more importantly, why? Is the real death mask the one currently on display in Paris? Or are we looking at the face of Jean-Baptiste Cipriani? Could the bodies really have been switched and if so, where are the real skeletal remains of Napoleon Bonaparte? Could the RUSI mask be genuine? How fascinating to think that it could be...