Death-mask of Marshal Józef Piłsudski - 1935

It is a plaster cast, covered with a patina of a mix of dark brown and red colors. The face was captured to the hairline in the frontal part, then to the temples, ears and neck. The neck was cut just under Adam’s apple. The strongest features are brows and mustache. It is 30 cm high, 20 cm wide and 16 cm deep.

The practice of taking death masks of important figures became especially popular in the 19th century, although the very tradition has its origins in ancient Rome. Back then the mask was made from wax and displayed to the public view after the emperor’s death. According to the common practice, though the practice wasn’t common in itself, the deceased was placed on a chair with a special top.

Józef Piłsudski died in Belweder Palace on Sunday: 12 May 1935 at 8.45 p.m. Jan Szczepkowski was called almost immediately to the Palace and despite having a flu accompanied by a high fever, took the mask with a help of a plasterer Stanisław Jankowski. On Monday at approx. 2.40 the Marshal’s face was shaved, after which Szczepkowski put a plaster cast on it. After removing the negative of the mask (around 3.30 a.m.), the corpse was dissected and then embalmed to be exposed to the public. Szczepkowski made over a dozen (maximum 17) casts of the Marshal’s face and about 5 of them have survived to this day. In 1935, several casts of Piłsudski’s brain were also made and then sent for research to the Stefan Batory University in Vilinius, which was the will of the deceased. In the first days of World War II, the brain, all its casts and the original photographic plates of the organ were lost.