Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nobunaga's Death Mask

Oda Nobunaga's so-called death mask has been in the news again. https://www.facebook.com/SamuraiHistoryCultureJapan/posts/664978376914024

It looks like Nobunaga's African attendant Yasuke took Nobunaga's so nobody from the Akechi army could get their hands on it.  It seems that the mask was molded from soft clay.  Here is my take on this:  I think it is fake.  The only way to prove that the mask is not a hoax is test it by carbon dating.  If the mask dates to the 1580s, then there might be a chance the mask is original.  If not, then the mask is a fake.

Death masks were popular in Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  It was used in Europe when the face was disfigured.  However, it was really a French fad and did not become popular until the French Revolution.  As for 16th century Spain and Portugal?  No evidence so far and it was highly possible that Yasuke did not know what a death mask was.

That being said, if you read the link entirely, the story is interesting.  Which it is.  It is nothing more than fantasy history, which is fine by me if you separate fact from fiction.  One other important matter regarding the mask, Nobunaga's body was never found.

Tenka no tame!


Unknown said...

Hi! I also find this very interesting. I agree that they need to scrutinize is more. Death masks, which were used by artists to make statues and portraits, were made of clay. Radiocarbon dating them, as it is with pottery, can be trouble (see: [RADIOCARBON,
VOL.34,No.3,1992 retrievable as of 8/2014 at http://pure.rhul.ac.uk/portal/files/4521595/hedges1992rmr.pdf)

As for death masks in 16th century Spain and Europe, there is a mention of them been done in Spain in the book "The World of Catholic Renewal - 1540-1770" written Hsia, published by Cambridge. Page 133.
"When Ignatius died in 1556, his secretary Juan Alfonso de Polanco ordered a death mask and portraits to be made."

So there is a possibility. How it is done, and if there are other methods available using DNA profiling if there are any traces of skin or hair on the mask, would be better. The hard part is finding relatives of Nobunaga to match it against.

otsuke said...

Thanks for the information. That being said, if Yasuke did have Nobunaga's head, don't you think Luis Frois would have written about it? As for the mask, I think it is a fake.

Unknown said...

Well, it's unproven until it is proven. The a great deal of what Luis Frois wrote about in Japan didn't make it back to Europe wholly. And considering that Lois Frois died in the late 1500's without really knowing how much of his work went back to Europe and was published also put a coin in the machine.

Either way, it needs to be scrutinized.