Mozart Timeline

The Facial Features of a Master

About 150 years after Mozart’s death, a bronze mask with Mozart’s facial features appeared in a Viennese used goods store. It was identified as the composer’s missing death mask. Is it real? Who made it? Where had it been all these years? In 1991, musicologist Eva Badura-Skoda wrote an article on this topic for the official catalogue of the Austrian National Library’s Department of Music which we were allowed to use as the foundation of this blog entry.

18 April 2014 Events

Mozart died in the early hours of 5 December 1791. His sister-in-law Sophie Haibel, who was taking care of the ill composer, wrote in a letter that hours after Mozart’s death, Count Joseph Deym, owner of "Müller’s Kunstkabinett", rushed to Mozart’s deathbed and made a plaster cast of his face. He left the plaster cast to Konstanze Mozart and made a bronze cast for himself.

The creation of death masks of famous personalities was common in the 18th century. At some point in time, Konstanze dropped the plaster cast and it broke. The bronze cast disappeared, probably into a private Austrian collection. Death masks eventually went out of fashion, the public lost interest. Even today, no one quite knows where Mozart’s death mask remained. It likely came to the used goods store as part of an estate during the second world war.

Authentic or Not Authentic – That is the Question

A scientific controversy flared up over the mask’s authenticity. The sculptor and physiognomy expert Willy Kau identified it as authentic shortly after its re-discovery. Due to a years-long fraud trial against him and a lengthy fight over its authenticity, however, not much was heard about the mask. Today, after detailed scientific examination, people are inclined to say that the death mask is "probably authentic".

Mozart’s grave is located at St Marx Cemetery in Vienna. He was buried there in a shaft grave on 6 or 7 December 1791. Back then, this was a common burial practice and later made it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of Mozart’s remains. In 1859, the sculptor Hanns Gasser created a gravestone monument which can be seen at the Vienna Zentralfriedhof ("Central Cemetery").

(Source: Requiem, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1791/1991, Exhibition of the Music Department of the Austrian National Library from 17 May – 5 December 1991, catalogue, Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz/Austria)

Contemporary plaster cast of Mozart’s death mask (Eva Badura-Skoda private collection)

Contemporary plaster cast of Mozart’s death mask (Eva Badura-Skoda private collection)

Photo: Bernhard Böhler