James Madison Life Mask Photoshop Restoration

The Life Mask Face of James Madison – A Photoshop Restoration

The Life Mask Face of James Madison – A Photoshop Restoration

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.

J. I. Browere Life Mask of James Madison
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)

“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,

Jacob Brown.”1

“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.

James Madison.”2

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.

James Madison Life Mask Photoshop Reconstructon
Life Mask Photoshop Reconstruction of James Madison

“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” 1 (i.e. puffiness around the eyes).”3

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.”4

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.

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Life Mask Photoshop Reconstructions
Before photography, life masks gave us the perfect likeness of people. Plaster was applied to the head and sometimes upper torso to create a mold to cast the life mask of a person. Using life masks, I was able to complete a forensic/academic study of how the subjects most likely appeared using Adobe Photoshop to add flesh, hair, and other details.
Intimate History Tours
Intimate History Tours sprang from an Adobe Photoshop graphic novel I created using James Madison as a fictional character. The graphic novel became too long and challenging, so I decided to focus on shorter blog posts with different personages from history. I visit a historical location and then “Photoshop” a virtual tour in which you and I get to meet folks from history.
The Madison Project
It all started with a graphic novel aimed at a Star Trek, Star Wars fan base who may not otherwise consider historical fiction. One could read this novel and get a historically accurate account of James Madison intertwined with a good science fiction story. The Madison project is a series of blog posts featuring select images from that effort as well as a Second Amendment meme centered around Madison.
What started as a fictional graphic novel has led me to an in-depth study and curiosity to know everything about him, including what he looked like. Anyway, doing all this research on Madison and making at least two trips to Montpelier, I feel as if I’ve gotten to know the little fellow and Dolley too!

It’s been fun.

Classic Cars
All things “Old Cars.”
Blast From the Past
Blast from the past is a series of posts about tidbits from the past that I find interesting. Anything could show up here!
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Sources & References:
1,2 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 Madisonhttp://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)

Copyright symbol in a light bulbCopyright & Disclaimer:

While most transformed image compositions on this site fall under a Creative Commons license and are shareable with attribution, the images in this post are restricted. The original life mask image of James Madison is copyright Richard Walker of the Fenimore Art Museum, and the Digital Yarbs Photoshop restorations are restricted to internet and video use of yarbs.net exclusively per agreement with Fenimore Art Museum. Permission for image use must be obtained from both Digital Yarbs and Fenimore Art Museum.

3 thoughts on “The Life Mask Face of James Madison – A Photoshop Restoration”

  1. This is BRILLIANT! You did an amazing job. I always wonder what they looked like in real life. It’s exciting that our technology allows us to explore this now.

  2. I’m reading a book about the creation of the U.S. Constitution. James Madison played a prominent role in influencing members of the convention leading to the substance of its final draft. For those who are soft-spoken hating to speak in a public forum as he was, it shows how superior intelligence coupled with preparation (about the history of democracies) and political influence can prevail over bombast. Patrick Henry, Madison’s rival at the convention, was famous for his oratory, but it was said that although Henry could persuade, Madison would convince.

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