The great scientist Sir Isaac Newton was not one of those artists or inventors whose genius is recognized too late, and his prominence in 18th century English society lead to certain measures being taken upon his death on March 31, 1727. One of those measures, says the Royal Society, was the creation of a “death mask,” a mask “prepared shortly after his death to serve as a likeness for future sculptures.” Now in the possession of the Royal Society,
This death mask is one of several prepared shortly after Newton’s death. The artist who made it is not known, but this version was owned by the 18th century French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac, who used it to carve a marble bust of Newton and to make the famous statue in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. It was sold at an auction of the contents of Roubiliac’s studio in 1762 and remained unnoticed in a sculpture dealer’s shop until found by Samuel Hunter Christie FRS in 1839 and donated to the Royal Society.
Using a modified version of the Microsoft Kinect, an XBox 360 peripheral meant for motion-tracking video gaming, scientists created the 3D scan of Newton’s fading visage. This new digitized face could, hopefully, be preserved even after Newton’s death mask crumbles away. Plus, it’s cool.