Death mask of Oliver Cromwell - Object of the month

Bolling Hall

February 2016

This month’s object has been selected for us by Paul Hodgson, a Visitor Assistant at Bolling Hall Museum.

He writes:

I have been in the museum service nearly 16 years and seen many wonderful and curious things.

But probably the one object that still sends a tingle down my spine everytime I see it, is the death mask of Oliver Cromwell. The mask has lived (not really alive!!) at Bolling Hall for many a year.

Why would I pick it as my object?  Well, there are  a number of reasons:

Firstly it is of an amazingly important figure in British history and you are staring straight into history, looking at his face. Sometimes history can feel cold and detached from our day to day lives of working and socialising and the thousand and one concerns that affect us.

Cromwell’s mask forces us to, at least for a moment, to contemplate the man and our own mortality.

Secondly, being of a macabre turn of mind and having a lifelong love of old horror films and stories of gothic extravagance, it would have been strange if I hadn’t been drawn to the mask.

Oh if only the mask could talk, what would we know! But, as my favourite saying has it…. Omni exeunt in mysterium (all ends in mystery) and I personally wouldn’t want any other way!

Curator’s note:  The cast is made of plaster and taken from the Cromwell’s wax death mask, made after the Lord Protector’s death in 1658 (the Wax death mask can be seen in the British Museum). Our plaster cast, we believe was  made about the same time.

Cromwell was a controversial figure but had a large impact on the history of Britain.

Initally this was as a Leader in the Parliamentarian ‘New Model Army’ that defeated the Royalists during the English Civil War. After the execution of Charles I in 1649, Cromwell’s influence on the government of the country continued to grow until 1653 when he was named ‘Lord Protector’ – a King in all but name, when Parliament was dissolved. This position of power lasted until his death in 1658, when the mask was made.

Although Cromwell never came to Bradford it was a Parliamentarian town during the Civil War. Ironically the mask is now displayed in Bolling Hall, which was a Royalist stronghold (overlooking the town) during the siege of Bradford.

You can also find a depiction of Cromwell on the outside of City Hall, where he’s included in a timeline of rulers of England (he’s on the side facing Centenary Square).

Share this Object of the month