Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805

Plaster life mask of Nelson, eyes open, hair parted in centre (the hair added by modelling); accompanied by the two-section matrix from which it was cast. This mask, one of three similar examples known, entered the Museum in 1939 as part of the Nelson-Ward Collection. It was for many years, both before then and later, believed to be a death mask but there is no contemporary reference to a mask being taken after Nelson's death. It is recorded, however, that when he was in Vienna in September 1800, he permitted a cast of his face to be taken by the sculptor Franz Thaller. It is therefore likely that all three masks are related to the marble bust completed in Vienna by Thaller and Matthias Ranson, in 1801 (SCU0088). Ranson is otherwise unknown and the late Richard Walker suggested that he may have been a studio assistant of Thaller who was perhaps responsible for the specialized and certainly uncomfortable business of taking the such face-moulds. While that primary matrix is no longer known, these slightly modified casts are presumed to be copied from it. The second version of the mask, which has the eyes closed, is now in the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth. The third, (private collection, on loan to the RNM), may be closest to the original mould in form. Although it also has the eyes open it ends at the hair-line, where one would expect the subject's hair to be brushed back and protected from the plaster used to take the face-mould. All three are discussed and illustrated by Richard Walker in 'Nelson's Masks - Life of Death?' (in 'The Mariner's Mirror', vol. 66, 1980, pp.319-27) and in his book ' The Nelson Portraits' ( RNM, Portsmouth/ Sutton Publishing, 1998).

Object Details

ID: SCU0106
Collection: Sculpture
Type: Life mask
Display location: Display - Nelson, Navy, Nation Gallery
Creator: Unknown
Date made: circa 1800
Exhibition: Nelson, Navy, Nation
People: Nelson, Horatio
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Nelson-Ward Collection
Measurements: Overall: 203 x 127 mm
Parts: Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805
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