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143

Oliver Cromwell: Plaster cast death mask

Estimate:

4,000 - 6,000 GBP

Property from the Estate of Briant Cuyler Holland

142

143

Oliver Cromwell: Plaster cast death mask

Oliver Cromwell: Plaster cast death mask

Estimate:

4,000 - 6,000 GBP

Lot sold:

5,670

GBP

Property from the Estate of Briant Cuyler Holland


Oliver Cromwell

Plaster cast death mask

220 178 x 110 mm, mounted on a velvet backing in a glass-fronted walnut box probably of the 19th century

To requested a Condition Report for this lot, please contact Niamh.Ryan@sothebys.com


Condition 11 of the Conditions of Business for Buyers (Online Only) is not applicable to this lot.


The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colors and shades which are different to the lot's actual color and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation. The condition report is a statement of opinion only. For that reason, the condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS ONLINE CONDITION REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE/BUSINESS APPLICABLE TO THE RESPECTIVE SALE.

By descent in the Holland Family.

Part of the sale proceeds from the present lot are to benefit Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

THE FACE OF THE REGICIDE AND LORD PROTECTOR.


Oliver Cromwell, the MP who had risen to command Parliament's armies, enabled the execution of King Charles I, and ultimately ruled the British Isles for nearly a decade, died on 3 September 1658. It was a date that had previously been personally auspicious; two of his greatest military victories, the Battles of Dunbar and of Worcester, had been fought on 3 September. He remains one of the most significant and controversial figures in British history, and his death left a power vacuum that proved impossible to fill. Within two years the executed king's son sat on the throne. 


This evocative cast is taken from a death mask that was taken some 10-14 days after Cromwell's death, after the body had been subjected to an intrusive autopsy (poison was suspected). Evidence of the autopsy are disguised but the cast retains clear impressions of the pads placed beneath the eyelids to prop up the sunken eyes, as well as a rough beard that the usually clean-shaven Cromwell grew on his death bed. The cast is believed to have been produced for Thomas Simon (1618/9-1665), chief engraver to the mint, who had produced several medal portraits of Cromwell. Simon was responsible for modelling a wax head which formed part of an effigy of the Lord Protector that was used in his quasi-royal funerary ceremonials, and a death mask would of course have been ideal as a basis for the effigy's facial features. This effigy, bearing orb, sceptre, and crown, lay in state at Somerset House from 20 September and was also placed above the coffin during the solemn procession to Westminster Abbey, where the state funeral was held on 23 November (one of the escutcheons used in the ceremonials was sold in these rooms on 10 July 2013). Cromwell's body played a minimal part in the public ceremonials: it had been badly embalmed and began to decompose, so was interred at the Abbey some two weeks before the funeral (the beautifully engraved brass plaque placed on the coffin was sold in these rooms on 9 December 2014).


Given Cromwell’s enormous significance, and the potency of the mask itself, it is unsurprising that a number of casts of the death mask survive. The current example is one of a group that has been described as the “Distorted Ashmolean” type, of which another example is found at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 4025). The nose is slightly deflected to the right and a wart on the forehead (which is missing in some copies of the mask) appears to have been “stuck on”.


Plaster masks are notoriously difficult to date but it is believed that this copy was purchased by the current consignor's family in the nineteenth century.