One of my favorite art history anecdotes has to be George Washington posing for his life mask.
The process of making a life mask was tedious and looked absolutely ridiculous, an absolute contrast to the point of catching Washington in his most dignified. The artist (Houdon) would have to lay Washington out flat, cover his hair and clothes with cloth, and then coat his face and neck in oil. To make sure he could breathe when they applied the plaster to his face, they stuck two quills up his nose. You can see why it’s so much easier to have a death mask made than a life one.
BUT— that isn’t it. I’ve read two accounts of this day. One being that Washington’s step-granddaughter came looking for him, saw him laid out like a corpse with strange men casting his features, and became so distressed she needed to be calmed.
The second account (my favorite) was an account Washington recalled of his life mask situation, stating at one point of the process, while his face was completely covered, Martha also walked in on him—and screamed. She screamed so loudly that he couldn’t help but find it funny, and says that he sees the faint imprint of a smile in his life mask from where Martha startled him.
Let me tell you, I’ve looked at the life mask and if he did smile even a teensy bit, it barely registers. But he sees some sort of smile in that dead pan, serene, life mask ¯\_(ツ)_/¯