Ugly row over Robspierre death mask

TWO researchers who gave the French revolutionary Robespierre a disputed 3D makeover have raised the possibility that the man best known for unleashing the Reign of Terror may have had a rare autoimmune disorder.

This 3D reconstruction shows Robespierre's face according to two French scientists. Picture: AP

Using a death mask that some historians believe was taken by Madame Tussaud herself just after Maximilian de Robespierre was guillotined, the researchers constructed a pockmarked, malevolent face that bears little resemblance to portraits of the 18th century revolutionary.

Researchers Philippe Charlier and Philippe Froesh, in a letter in the British journal Lancet published yesterday, said their review of the death mask and descriptions of Robespierre’s ailments by contemporaries indicate he could have had sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder that was first recognised in 1877, nearly 100 years after the revolution.

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Some historians question the mask’s authenticity, including Philippe de Carbonnieres, at Paris’s Musée Carnavalet, home to one of the most famous portraits of Robespierre as a handsome young man. Copies of the mask can be found at the Granet Museum in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence.

Madam Tussaud knew Robespierre and other revolutionaries and created death masks in exchange for keeping her own head, but Mr Carbonnieres said she certainly faked Robespierre’s.

“This is a vision that a lot of people want to have of Robespierre,” said Mr Carbonnieres, who is a member of the organisation Friends of Robespierre.

The argument might seem academic, but Robespierre remains a divisive figure in politics. When the first 3D images emerged this month, far-left politicians denounced it as a plot to make their hero look evil.