Terrifying new facial reconstruction of Robespierre

Philippe Charlier, forensic pathologist and indefatigable researcher of historical medical conundrums, and Philippe Froesch, facial reconstruction specialist with Visual Forensic in Barcelona, Spain, have created an intense facial reconstruction of French Revolutionary leader Maximilien de Robespierre. The main source for the image is a plaster copy of a death mask Madame Tussaud claimed* to have made from his decapitated head after he was guillotined on July 28th, 1794.

Froesch used a hand-held scanner to create a 3D computer model of the face. He then added details to the smooth-faced model, like the more than 100 pockmarks caused by a bad case of smallpox he suffered 30 years before his death when he was a boy of six. The eyes were a particular challenge because the closed eyelids didn’t leave an impression in the plaster so they were drawn on. Using an FBI technique that allowed him to calculate the eye size and position from marks left on the mask by the corneas, he was able to correct the crude eyelid line. (There are some pictures of the eye work on the Visual Forensic website.)

The end result is very far from the mild face conveyed in his portraits:

Portrait artists were then and are now notoriously heavy-handed with the painterly Photoshop, and the uncertainties of the French Revolution would have made it a very bad idea to cross someone who could easily have you decapitated, but damn yo, if this reconstruction is the real deal, I hope Robespierre paid those painters generously.

Charlier and Froesch also studied contemporary accounts of Robespierre and those coupled with the newly reconstructed face, suggested a possible diagnosis for the illness known to have afflicted him.

Several clinical signs were described by contemporary witnesses: vision problems, nose bleeds (“he covered his pillow of fresh blood each night”), jaundice (“yellow coloured skin and eyes”), asthenia (“continuous tiredness”), recurrent leg ulcers, and frequent facial skin disease associated with scars of a previous smallpox infection. He also had permanent eye and mouth twitching. The symptoms worsened between 1790 and 1794. [...]

The retrospective diagnosis that includes all these symptoms is diffuse sarcoidosis with ophthalmic, upper-respiratory-tract (nose or sinus mucosa), and liver or pancreas involvement.

Sarcoidosis is a rare autoimmune syndrome where granulomas (collections of immune system cells) develop in any number of organs. Symptoms include all the ones mentioned above and a slew of others. The skin can be affected too, causing nodules or lesions that last several weeks. Treatment these days is corticosteroids, but Robespierre died 80 years before the disease was identified by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson and 160 years before the introduction of prednisone. His treatment would have been more along the lines of bleeding and dietary changes.

The reconstruction has not gone over well with Robespierre fans, for some reason.

When the first 3D images emerged earlier this month, far left politicians denounced it as a plot to make their hero look evil.

“These days, with 3D, heroes are derided and tyrant kings are magnified … A sad era,” wrote Alexis Corbiere, a Paris official and member of the Leftist Front, which is among many to view Robespierre as a champion of social justice.

*Some historians think Madame Toussaud lied about the authenticity of the mask to promote her work, that the Revolutionary authorities would have had no interest in preserving Robespierre’s visage and would want to bury him and the rest of the daily pile of bodies as soon as possible. However, the Terror leaders did commission her to make death masks of King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and many other notable victims of Madame Guillotine. There’s no reason to assume they’d be inimical to the very idea of preserving the faces of whoever they deemed enemies of the Revolution. Masks of aristocrats and Terror victims were paraded through the streets.

The original of the mask is in Madame Tussauds London. The copies Froesch used are from the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. They were commissioned by artist and phrenologist Pierre Marie Alexandre Dumoutier who amassed a large collection of casts as part of his fascination with the bumps on people’s heads.

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20 Comments »

Comment by M.R.
2013-12-23 01:46:24

Read Hilary Mantel’s “A Place of Greater Safety” now, and you’ll have an additional stratum of input to read it by.

Comment by livius drusus
2013-12-23 01:48:45

I love Hilary Mantel so I’ll gladly do so. Can you summarize her input on the matter?

 
 
Comment by Luis von Wetzler
2013-12-23 05:32:57

Thanks to give the monster the face that he really had, not some convenient potraits painted by some of his friends. Ths horrendous creature was one of the responsibles for the genocide in La Vendée, Bretagne, Lyon and other parts of France, around 400,000 people were murdered following his instructions and those of the Comité de Salut Publique. The Jacobins were those who inspired Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and other mass assassins of his own nature full of evil. The martyrdom of Their Majesties the King and Queen, the younger sister of King Louis XVI, Madame Élisabeth de France and dozens of thousands more, were prepared by Robespierre, Foquier Tinville, Barras, Hebert, Kleber and others. They represented the devil in France, the most horrendous revolution before the Bolsheviks took power in Russia.

 
Comment by Virginia Burton
2013-12-23 07:35:27

The death mask looks mighty serene for someone who knew he was about to be guillotined.

 
Comment by Elisa
2013-12-23 07:45:02

Luis, this is not Hollywood (or is it ?). Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, ugliness in combination with political incorrectness and sarcoidosis does not necessarily leed to lesions of the neck. It might be hard to tell though, if Louis suffered from sarcoidosis too. What history tells us is this: The villains tend to look smarter these days, and mindsets do actually not matter when throats are cut.

 
Comment by Luis von Wetzler
2013-12-23 08:09:58

I cannot follow you, or perhaps you love guys like Robespierre, Foquier Tinville, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. I am a historian and I teach history of Europe since 1989 in two universities, so I know quite well what I am posting here. Peut être tu est part de la canaille?

 
Comment by Elisa
2013-12-23 08:32:37

Ok, I would not go so fas as to say that the villains of today are history teachers, but as a history teacher you might reflect your attitude towards royalty (as it used to be).

nevertheless, merry christmas.

 
Comment by Rowan
2013-12-23 11:54:36

If he had been shot in the jaw prior to the execution, would not the death mask have preserved evidence of such an injury?

 
Comment by Dale P
2013-12-23 12:42:31

I have always wondered how subjective these things are. For example how puffy the cheeks should be. The more subjective the creation of these things are then of course the more they should be regarded with skepticism. I rarely take much notice of these stories as they come up.

 
Comment by Marie Z. Johansen
2013-12-23 15:38:26

I am not a learned historian, but I do read historical books extensively. Oddly enough, this is rather exactly what I had in my minds eye for what he might have looked like, albeit perhaps a bit more haggard looking!

Facinating! Great article. Thanks for posting it!

 
Comment by Antonio
2013-12-24 09:31:25

Luis — I find it inexplicably odd that you would characterize the deaths of “Their Majesties the King and Queen, the younger sister of King Louis XVI, Madame Élisabeth de France…” as a martyrdom. Louis XVI was never canonized and I might add for good reason.

Louis XVI was for all practical purposes an insipidly stupid monarch bereft of political acumen. Sadly he lacked the wisdom and fortitude to shepherd France into becoming a constitutional monarchy. He could have saved the lives of countless others and his own neck if he’d been an astute king.

I note the above because Maximilien de Robespierre is a symptom of Louis XVI’s failure as a monarch. Louis XVI is responsible for the political contagion that Robespierre foisted upon France and the rest of the world. Sadly his political incompetence set the stage for France, Europe and the rest of the world to lurch from one unmitigated disaster and calamity into another.

La belle France still suffers grievous wounds to her body politic to this day from Louis XVI’s singular lack of political will and substance at one of the most critical times in her history.

 
Comment by Luis von Wetzler
2013-12-25 10:06:56

Their Christian Majesties le Roi Louis XVI, et Marie Antoinette de Lorraine de d’Autriche were declared martyrs of our Holly Faith by His Holiness Pope Pius XIX, which does mean that they are considered saints. The only one who will be beatified soon, is Her Royal Higness Madame Élisabeth de France, the younger sister of King Louis XVI. One miracle was recently recognized by the Vatican Comission, Pope Benedict XVI was preparing a declaration of Beatification when he resigned to the throne of Saint Peter. Your knowledge of French history and the revolution is almost zero, I will not answer your insults to the memory of a wonderful man and king, who paid with his life all the mistakes of his grandfather Louis XV. Fist learn French then you may give a more accurate opinion of French history and the horrors of the revolution. I teach European history and I had dedicated almost 45 years to learn it, and being an old European and coming from a family whose roots are as old as 800 years I have plenty of information in my personal archives and library about the events that drove France to that Anti Catholic revolution, which in fact was a precedent with their own genocide for Lenin, Stalin, Hilter, Mao and Pol Pot, a très bientôt Ludwig ReichsFreiherr von Wetzler zu Plankenberg

 
Comment by Antonio
2013-12-25 14:23:50

Luis – straw man arguments that you are an “old European,’ claim European roots that are 800 years old, have taught history for forty-five years, and that I should learn “French” are somewhat meaningless. I can make similar assertions and in addition to French have facility with many more languages– so where does that leave us.

The simple fact is that Louis XVI was a lousy monarch. A better king would have made wiser decisions. Louis XVI should have crafted policies to meet the demands of the time. It would have take political courage and fortitude from him. Again, traits that he lacked. I realize that you want to elide this simple fact and buttress your points with healthy dollops of religiosity. Clio teaches us that incompetent leadership has lousy consequences such as, but not limited to, the collapse of empires, ending of royal lineages and dissolution of states. As my grandfather said after Dine Ben Phu: “Sic transit gloria.”

 
Comment by Anonymous
2013-12-26 08:58:47

Antonio or I should say Maximilien Robespierre or Lénin, considering that you don’t speak French, and that your knowledge of French history is almost zero, and less what is related to the horrendous revolution, as a member of one of the oldest families of the Holy Empire and even from the French Kingdom, I invite you to read and learn the last will of His Most Christian Majesty the Martyr King of France Louis XVI, the very same day that he was murdered.

In the name of the Very holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

To-day, the 25th day of December, 1792, I, Louis XVI King of France, being for more than four months imprisoned with my family in the tower of the Temple at Paris, by those who were my subjects, and deprived of all communication whatsoever, even with my family, since the eleventh instant; moreover, involved in a trial the end of which it is impossible to foresee, on account of the passions of men, and for which one can find neither pretext nor means in any existing law, and having no other witnesses, for my thoughts than God to whom I can address myself, I hereby declare, in His presence, my last wishes and feelings.

I leave my soul to God, my creator; I pray Him to receive it in His mercy, not to judge it according to its merits but according to those of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has offered Himself as a sacrifice to God His Father for us other men, no matter how hardened, and for me first.

I die in communion with our Holy Mother, the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church, which holds authority by an uninterrupted succession, from St. Peter, to whom Jesus Christ entrusted it; I believe firmly and I confess all that is contained in the creed and the commandments of God and the Church, the sacraments and the mysteries, those which the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. I never pretend to set myself up as a judge of the various way of expounding the dogma which rend the church of Jesus Christ, but I agree and will always agree, if God grant me life the decisions which the ecclesiastical superiors of the Holy Catholic Church give and will always give, in conformity with the disciplines which the Church has followed since Jesus Christ.

I pity with all my heart our brothers who may be in error but I do not claim to judge them, and I do not love them less in Christ, as our Christian charity teaches us, and I pray to God to pardon all my sins. I have sought scrupulously to know them, to detest them and to humiliate myself in His presence. Not being able to obtain the ministration of a Catholic priest, I pray God to receive the confession which I feel in having put my name (although this was against my will) to acts which might be contrary to the discipline and the belief of the Catholic church, to which I have always remained sincerely attached. I pray God to receive my firm resolution, if He grants me life, to have the ministrations of a Catholic priest, as soon as I can, in order to confess my sins and to receive the sacrament of penance.

I beg all those whom I might have offended inadvertently (for I do not recall having knowingly offended any one), or those whom I may have given bad examples or scandals, to pardon the evil which they believe I could have done them.

I beseech those who have the kindness to join their prayers to mine, to obtain pardon from God for my sins.

I pardon with all my heart those who made themselves my enemies, without my have given them any cause, and I pray God to pardon them, as well as those who, through false or misunderstood zeal, did me much harm.

I commend to God my wife and my children, my sister, my aunts, my brothers, and all those who are attached to me by ties of blood or by whatever other means. I pray God particularly to cast eyes of compassion upon my wife, my children, and my sister, who suffered with me for so long a time, to sustain them with His mercy if they shall lose me, and as long as they remain in his mortal world.

I commend my children to my wife; I have never doubted her maternal tenderness for them. I enjoin her above all to make them good Christians and honest individuals; to make them view the grandeurs of this world (if they are condemned to experience them) as very dangerous and transient goods, and turn their attention towards the one solid and enduring glory, eternity. I beseech my sister to kindly continue her tenderness for my children and to take the place of a mother, should they have the misfortune of losing theirs.

I beg my wife to forgive all the pain which she suffered for me, and the sorrows which I may have caused her in the course of our union; and she may feel sure that I hold nothing against her, if she has anything with which to reproach herself.

I most warmly enjoin my children that, after what they owe to God, which should come first, they should remain forever united among themselves, submissive and obedient to their mother, and grateful for all the care and trouble which she has taken with them, as well as in memory of me. I beg them to regard my sister as their second mother.

I exhort my son, should he have the misfortune of becoming king, to remember he owes himself wholly to the happiness of his fellow citizens; that he should forget all hates and all grudges, particularly those connected with the misfortunes and sorrows which I am experiencing; that he can make the people happy only by ruling according to laws: but at the same time to remember that a king cannot make himself respected and do the good that is in his heart unless he has the necessary authority, and that otherwise, being tangled up in his activities and not inspiring respect, he is more harmful than useful.

I exhort my son to care for all the persons who are attached to me, as much as his circumstances will allow, to remember that it is a sacred debt which I have contracted towards the children and relatives of those who have perished for me and also those who are wretched for my sake. I know that there are many persons, among those who were near me, who did not conduct themselves towards me as they should have and who have even shown ingratitude, but I pardon them (often in moments of trouble and turmoil one is not master of oneself), and I beg my son that, if he finds an occasion, he should think only of their misfortunes.

I should have wanted here to show my gratitude to those who have given me a true and disinterested affection; if, on the one hand, I was keenly hurt by the ingratitude and disloyalty of those to whom I have always shown kindness, as well as to their relatives and friends, on the other hand I have had the consolation of seeing the affection and voluntary interest which many persons have shown me. I beg them to receive my thanks.

In the situation in which matters still are, I fear to compromise them if I should speak more explicitly, but I especially enjoin my son to seek occasion to recognize them.

I should, nevertheless, consider it a calumny on the nation if I did not openly recommend to my son MM. De Chamilly and Hue, whose genuine attachment for me led them to imprison themselves with me in this sad abode. I also recommend Clery, for whose attentiveness I have nothing but praise ever since he has been with me. Since it is he who has remained with me until the end, I beg the gentlemen of the commune to hand over to him my clothes, my books, my watch, my purse, and all other small effects which have been deposited with the council of the commune.

I pardon again very readily those who guard me, the ill treatment and the vexations which they thought it necessary to impose upon me. I found a few sensitive and compassionate souls among them – may they in their hearts enjoy the tranquillity which their way of thinking gives them.

I beg MM. De Malesherbes, Tronchet and De Seze to receive all my thanks and the expressions of my feelings for all the cares and troubles they took for me.

I finish by declaring before God, and ready to appear before Him, that I do not reproach myself with any of the crimes with which I am charged.

Made in duplicate in the Tower of the Temple, the 25th of December 1792.

LOUIS

 
Comment by Android
2013-12-26 16:39:46

Anonymous, what kind of point do you think you’re making by calling someone Lenin?

 
Comment by Anonymous
2013-12-26 20:13:08

That is quite obvious that you are an enemy of our monarchy, and from any monarchy, is crystal clear that your ideas are pro revolution, not pro dynasties.

 
Comment by Rebecca
2013-12-28 19:32:12

I went to Madame Tussaud’s in London when I was 7 – my first & only exposure to the art of the wax museum. But I had no idea she was active during the French Revolution – I mentally placed her at about the time of PT Barnum. I would love to see a post about her sometime – I’ll bet she was fascinating! In the meantime, I’ll check out Wikipedia. Thanks!

 
Comment by Annie
2013-12-31 00:23:16

Antonio, I don’t claim to know much about French history, but to say that the king – one man- was responsible for the horror that was the French Revolution is a bit much. Especially if he was weak, as you say. It would be one thing if he were as evil as say, those who carried out the revolution or Stalin or pick your typical my-way-or-the-highway leftist, but he didn’t seem to be a bad guy for the time.

 
Comment by Charles Louis de Rohan Chabot
2013-12-31 18:30:46

Dear Annie I agree 100% with you, the position of this gentleman regarding the King of France “mon Roi” is not only mistaken but totally absurd, to blame the King Louis XVI for all the problems and errors of the Ancien Regime sounds really stupid, and a consequence of a total lack of knowledge of history, political theory and law. Only a blind person can write in such a way.

 
Comment by harold behr
2014-01-08 10:28:48

Robespierre was a complicated character, whatever he might have stood for. But how did Froesch and Charliere arrive at a diagnosis of sarcoidosis from their reconstruction of his features? None of the symptoms listed are, as far as I know, specific to that condition. If he had suffered from jaundice he would have been much more ill in his latter days.

 
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