If Napoleon’s last moments have caused much ink to flow between those who believe that he died of natural causes and those who believe in the poisoning theory, the circumstances surrounding the making of his death mask also remain unclear.
The English surgeon, Burton, and French doctor, Antommarchi took an impression of Napoleon’s face on his death bed on May 7, 1821. The plaster is of bad quality, and the impression is taken in three parts. The day after, May 8, when Burton wanted to begin the first casting of the Emperor’s face, he noted that the central part had disappeared. It had been stolen by General Bertrand’s wife in order to deliver it to Antommarchi. Burton left the island with the two remaining parts, the upper and the lower. Antommarchi reconstituted the missing parts from portraits of the Emperor and made plaster moulds. Burton having died in 1828, Antommarchi launched a subscription in 1833 to present the mask to the public. The copies are offered in two materials: bronze and plaster.
The bronze ones were made until 1836 by casters L. Richard and Quesnel. Their brand name appears on the copy owned by the Museum.