The 3D reconstruction of Robespierre’s face doesn’t really present a flattering picture


Back in 2013, forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier and facial reconstruction specialist Philippe Froesch created what they termed as a realistic 3D facial reconstruction of Maximilien de Robespierre, the infamous ‘poster boy’ of the French Revolution. But as one can comprehend from the actual outcome of their reconstruction, contemporary portraits of Robespierre were possibly flattering to the leader.

Originally published as one of the letters in the Lancet medical journal, the reconstruction was made with the aid of various sources. Some among them obviously relate to the contemporary portraits and accounts of Robespierre, in spite of their ‘compliant’ visualization of the revolutionary. But one of the primary objects that helped the researchers, pertain to the famous death mask of Robespierre, made by none other than Madame Tussaud. Interestingly enough, Tussaud (possibly) claimed that the death mask was directly made with the help of Robespierre’s decapitated head after he was guillotined on July 28th, 1794.


Left side – the 3D reconstruction; right side – a portrait of the revolutionary, circa 1790.

Now beyond the visual scope of this 3D reconstruction, the researchers also pointed out a slew of medical conditions that the political leader probably suffered from. According to the scholars, these clinical signs were actually described by contemporary witnesses –

Vision problems, nose bleeds (“he covered his pillow of fresh blood each night”), jaundice (“yellow colored 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 day before his beheading, Robespierre suffered a firearm wound to the jaw in dubious circumstances.


Robespierre’s death mask.

Finally Dr Charlier’s retrospective diagnosis for Robespierre’s symptoms relate to sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder involving the abnormal collection of chronic inflammatory cells that form as nodules in multiple organs. And while the disorder (with symptoms similar to cancer) can be treated with steroids in our modern times, unsurprisingly, during Robespierre’s lifetime, the disease was probably not recognized. The forensic scientists wrote –

We do not know which treatment was given by his personal physician Joseph Souberbielle, but fruits might have been included (in view of his very high consumption of oranges) along with baths and bloodletting. His disease did not play any part in his death, as judicial execution put the patient to death in a context of political crisis.

Pertaining to the last sentence, according to contemporary sources, before Robespierre’s execution, the political leader was already injured with his shattered lower jaw – possibly due to a self-inflicted gunshot or being shot by a French soldier named Charles-André Merda. But the literal ‘coup de grace‘ was obviously offered by the guillotine blade, and thus the major figure of the Reign of Terror met his gruesome fate along with his close associates.

France Robespierre's Face

Photo/VisualForensic, Philippe Froesch, Batabat

Via: The Guardian

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