Famous Death Masks Blaise Pascal

About the history of the plastar death mask made of French philosopher Blaise Pascal.

POSTMORTEMS--WHAT THEY DIED FROM

BLAISE PASCAL (1623-1662), French philosopher

The Jansenist author of the Pensees died at 39, prematurely aged after years of pain and ill health. A postmortem revealed extensive organic damage as well as a lesion due to malformed closure of a bone suture in the skull.

"May God never abandon me!" he said before dying. His family decided to have a death mask made by one Duvivier, at whose home the mask was found more than 100 years later.

Details of this ascetic face include the asymmetric features, half-paralyzed by hemiplegia; the nose slightly crushed by the weight of the plaster mask; and the clenched jaws resulting from a chin strap attached after death. Yet, in the words of biographer Jean Steinmann, "peace suffused the features. . .to so many of the written Pensees was to be added like a living illustration the very image of the thinking organ. . . .Pascal's mask reminds us of Napoleon's with something less feminine, less dreamy, and more regally intelligent about it."

The mask itself is kept at the Society of the Friends of Port-Royal in Paris, while casts are held at the Bibliotheque St. Genevieve in Paris and Newnham College Library in Cambridge, England.

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