The Life Mask Face of James Madison – A Photoshop Reconstruction
What did James Madison Look Like?
This post is part II and somewhat a repeat of What Did The Founding Fathers Look Like? – James Madison. However, unlike my first post, I now have higher quality images to work with, thanks to the Fenimore Art Museum. I will be adding side views of Madison’s face to this post in the future.
No photographs of Madison exist, but we do have his life mask showing his exact likeness, wrinkles and all. I’m sure the War of 1812 attributed to quite a few of those wrinkles.
“My Dear Sir:
Mr. Browere waits on you and Mrs. Madison with the expectation of being permitted to take your portrait busts from the life. As I have a sincere regard for him as a gentleman and a scholar, and great confidence in his skill as an artist (he having made two busts of myself), in the art which he is cultivating, I name him to you with much pleasure as being worthy of your encouragement and patronage. I am interested in having Mr. Browere take your likeness, for I have long been desirous to obtain a perfect one of you. From what I have seen and heard of Mr. Browere’s efforts to copy nature, I hope to receive from his hands that desideratum in a faithful facsimile of my esteemed friend ex-President Madison. Be pleased to present my most respectful regards to Mrs. Madison, and believe me always
Your most devoted friend,
“From this introduction Browere seems to have gained the friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Madison, who took more than an ordinary interest in the artist and his family. They were on terms of familiar intercourse, and an infant, born to Mrs. Browere, July 3, 1826, was, by Mrs. Madison’s permission, named for her. Some years later this child accompanied her parents on an extended visit to Montpelier.”
That Madison was satisfied with the result of Browere’s skill is shown by the following:
Per request of Mr. Browere, busts of myself and of my wife, regarded as exact likenesses, have been executed by him in plaister, being casts made from the moulds formed on our persons, of which this certificate is given under my hand at Montpelier, 19, October, 1825.
Using Madison’s life mask and Adobe Photoshop, I’ve attempted to create what Madison might have looked like in 1825, with his blue eyes, bushy eyebrows and signature “widow’s peak” comb-over.
“In his late 70s Madison was still mentally sharp. In 1828, one visitor found his conversation “a stream of history… so rich in sentiments and facts, so enlivened by anecdotes and epigrammatic remarks, so frank and confidential as to opinions on men and measures, that it had an interest and charm, which the conversation of few men now living, could have.” Physically, Madison’s “little blue eyes sparkled like stars from under his bushy grey eyebrows and amidst the deep wrinkles of his poor thin face” . With age, his complexion became yellowish, and his eyes “blepharitic” (i.e. puffiness around the eyes).”
J. I. Browere’s “work achieved a stark realism uncommon in that day. His plaster busts showed the age-lined brow, the pock-marked face; his subjects appeared as they were, not as artists generally portrayed them. His life masks were, and remain, the most authentic likenesses of some historic figures who lived in a day before photography provided more easily obtained but similarly uncompromising portraits.”
The life mask of Madison was by far my most challenging Photoshop project to date. The following video shows the process of it coming together from start to finish.
Sources & References:
Charles Henry Hart. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of Browere’s Life Masks of Great Americans” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/51890/51890-h/51890-h.htm
3Doctor Zebra. “Health and Medical History of President James Madison” http://www.doctorzebra.com/prez/g04.htm
4Donald B. Webster, Jr. “The Day Jefferson Got Plastered” American Heritage (1963) https://www.americanheritage.com/day-jefferson-got-plastered
Original Life Mask Image Source: James Madison, 1825, John Henri Isaac Browere (1790-1834), Plaster, H: 28.5 x W: 21 x D: 11.5 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0244.1940. Photograph by Richard Walker. (Used By Permission)