Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

Off with their heads: 3D scans reveal Lord Nelson's secrets


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Wax portrait heads of historical figures captured in extraordinary detail in pioneering partnership of art and science:

Maev Kennedy writes: Adm Lord Horatio Nelson and William Pitt the Younger have travelled together by taxi across the Thames, from their home in Westminster Abbey to St Thomas’ hospital, to have their heads run through some of the most sophisticated scanning equipment in the world in a pioneering partnership of art, conservation and science.

Scanning of the wax portrait heads, made at the time of their deaths in 1805 and 1806, was performed using state-of-the-art equipment owned by Guy’s and St Thomas’, with all the scientists, curators, conservators and abbey staff involved in the project working unpaid overtime . .

The figure – dressed in one of the admiral’s uniforms and a hat with a flap that folds down to protect his blind eye – is startlingly lifelike, a fact vouched for by his mistress, Emma Hamilton, who was barred from his state funeral but brought discreetly into the abbey to see the effigy.

. . Nelson sat for his portrait, made by wax artist Patience Wright, whose double life might have surprised the admiral – she was also an American spy, who enclosed secret messages in the wax busts she sent to the US.

. . The scanning forms part of extensive conservation work on the abbey’s collection, before a new museum opens in 2018 in the triforium, the attic of the church never before open to the public.


New tower will reveal hidden world of Westminster Abbey

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