Get up close and personal with Beethoven’s death mask

Get up close and personal with Beethoven’s death mask


norman lebrecht

February 06, 2020

The Vienna Funeral Museum – yes, there had to be one – is putting on a display of death masks of great composers. On display are Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert as they were seen for the last time before burial.

Beethoven’s mask, we’re told, is somewhat distorted due to the cranial autopsy that was performed after his deat.

Only in Vienna.



    • Paul Mauffray says:

      The image of the Beethoven mask in that video link from LH is not the death-mask, but is in fact the Life-mask which was made in 1812 when Beethoven was 42 years old. I have an exact copy of it made from the same mold which I would love to get appraised. There is also a copy in the Beethoven Pasqualati house in Vienna.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The copy of the 1812 life mask was mass produced in the 19th century and thousands of them can still be found in European, often German homes. I have one myself, went down through the family.

        • Paul says:

          Thank you for that info. I had also heard that maybe this 1821 life-mask was mass produced, but I have been unable to find one for sale on-line yet to compare.

  • Edoardo says:

    There is a funeral museum also in Amsterdam 🙂

  • Ed says:

    Well, Beethoven died only in Vienna.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    That death mask – which I’ve seen before – is tremendously affecting. It means the great man suffered a great deal before he died – without means of pain alleviation with drugs. Maybe alcohol dumbed the pain, but keeping it down would have been the challenge.

    Do we actually know the cause of death? From what I’ve read it was probably gastric/intestinal cancer or cirrhosis. That house where he died in Schwarzpanierstrasse is no longer there, but a plaque marks the spot.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Many biographies simply assume serious liver problems. It is known that B drank a lot, probably to keep depression at bay. And then, intestinal problems which can be understood as caused by stress and inadequate eating habits, combined with the already not very healthy diets of that period.

      There is the story that he sat in a restaurant, sunk in deep thoughts and scribbling things in his notebook, and then after a couple of hours asking for the bill, forgetting that he had not even come around to order something. One can imagine the kind of digestive chaos as a result.