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Death mask of Jonathan Swift

Swift was declared of 'unsound mind and memory' in 1742; he died at 3pm on 19 October 1745, leaving the greater part of his estate to establish St Patrick's, Ireland's first hospital for the mentally ill. This death mask was made prior to autopsy by applying plaster to Swift's face to capture an exact likeness. It was probably taken within four hours of his death, during the period of rigor mortis, when the face still holds relatively firm. The eyebrows are sparse in contrast to the contemporary portraits of the Dean that depict him with strong, well-defined brows.

This mask, signed by the maker Del Veccho [?Del Vecchio], was originally in the possession of Oscar Wilde's father, the surgeon Sir William Wilde, author of The closing years of Dean Swift's life (1849). The colour of the mask is the result of the application of a flesh-coloured paint that has since darkened. A marble bust of Swift by Louis François Roubiliac, commissioned by Trinity College students shortly after his death, is on display in the Long Room. Dean Swift was buried in his own cathedral, St Patrick's, close by his dear friend Esther ('Stella') Johnson, in accordance with his wishes.

Shelfmark: TCD MS OBJECT 58

Felicity O' Mahony

Felicity O' Mahony is an Archivist in the Department of Manuscripts & Archives with curatorial responsibility for medieval Latin and Greek manuscripts. She is also interested in early 20th-century Irish literature and Irish photographic archives.