A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Shakespeare's Death Mask?

This could be exciting. I love Shakespeare.

"Death mask" of Shakespeare could be genuine: New Scientist---

PARIS (AFP) - A 17th-century death mask claimed to be that of William Shakespeare could be genuine, according to reported work by lab detectives.

The mask, discovered in a ragpicker's shop in 1842 and now owned by the German city of Darmstadt, has long been a subject of controversy.

It bears the high forehead and prominent nose and beard associated with the Bard and bears the inscription "+ Ao Dm 1616," apparently meaning "Died Anno Domini 1616," the year when Shakespeare passed away at the age of 52, a report in New Scientist magazine said.

But leading scholars have questioned the provenance of the mask and also said it is not a close enough match to the tiny handful of portraits that can be attributed to Shakespeare.

The pendulum may now swing back in the mask's favour, the British science weekly says.

The force behind it is University of Mainz academic Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, who is a champion of the mask.

She asked a specialist at the German Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation to compare two portraits widely believed to be of Shakespeare with that of a bust housed in London's Garrick Club.

Using a computer technique employed by the police to test whether separate facial images belong to the same person, scientist Reinhardt Altmann found close matches around the eyes, nose and lips of the paintings and bust, leading him to conclude that the faces were all those of the same individual.

Hammerschmidt-Hummel's next step was to compare the bust with the Darmstadt death mask.

Engineers from imaging company Konica Minola Europe scanned the bust and death mask with lasers to build up 3D computer models.

"Superimposing the models revealed perfect matches between the forehead, eyes and nose," says New Scientist.

The difference is that the lips on the death mask are thinner than those on the bust, but Hammerschmidt-Himmel contends that this is normal, for the lips would have shrunk with the loss of blood pressure after death.

British experts are yet to be convinced, says New Scientist.
Do read the rest here.