Death masks were wax or plaster molds applied post mortem to create a replication of the dead’s face, and could then be reproduced further. Casts became popular to display or use as a model for a bust or portrait in the late Middle Ages. This practice was common until the end of the 19th Century. Some of the surviving masks are wonderfully expressive. While admittedly morbid, there’s something touching and honest about the surviving portraits. They would have served as accurate reminders in the age before photography, perhaps less flattering than portraits but seemingly immediate.
Sir Walter Scott
Dante Gabriel Rossetti