Death Mask of Hiram Powers

Copied Thomas Ball, Joel Tanner Hart, Death Mask of Hiram Powers, 1873, plaster, 9 386 129 38 in. (23.816.623.8 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in memory of Ralph Cross Johnson, 1968.155.176
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Artwork Details

Death Mask of Hiram Powers
9 386 129 38 in. (23.816.623.8 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase in memory of Ralph Cross Johnson
Mediums Description
  • State of being — death
  • Portrait male — Powers, Hiram
  • Portrait male — Powers, Hiram — head
Object Number

Artwork Description

Hiram Powers was a gifted American sculptor who spent much of his life in Italy. His most famous work, Greek Slave, was the first fully nude life-size female sculpture put on public exhibition in the United States. Thomas Ball came to know Powers in Florence and the two developed a close friendship; the artist even had his villa built next to Powers’s home. Ball was deeply affected by the loss of his friend, whose death was due in part to silicosis, a lung condition he acquired from years of inhaling marble particles. He and Joel Tanner Hart, another American sculptor living in Italy, commemorated Powers’s life in poetry and by molding a death mask directly from his face. This tradition had become very popular by the nineteenth century. The artist carefully preserved his friend’s naturally calm expression, suggesting that he met death peacefully.