Francesco Antommarchi (d. 1838) was Napoleon's physician on St. Helena and is one of the few who had access and is reported to have taken an impression of the late Emperor's face. Much debate lingers about the authenticity of the many versions of Napoleon's death mask that have circulated since his death in 1821. They run the spectrum from heroic and idealized to more naturalistic depictions like the present lot. Dr. Antommarchi performed Napoleon's autopsy the day after his death on 6 May 1821, and noted a slight contortion to Napoleon's mouth, a detail that is captured in the present lot.
A virtually identical death mask was presented to the collection of the Royal United Service Institute in 1952 by a Mr. Charles Adler. By repute Adler was informed that the mask was acquired from the collection of the late Victor Massena, 4th Prince of Essling, Duke of Rivoli (1836-1910) who was a descendent of Andre Massena (1758-1817), one of Napoleon's fiercest Marshals. Napoleon honored Massena's military achievements by presenting him with the titles Duke of Rivoli (1808) and Prince of Essling (1810). Evidently, in the early 1970's the Royal United Service Institute lost track of the death mask and its present whereabouts are unknown.