Mary Queen of Scots death mask 3D digital model revealed

08 February 2024
To mark the anniversary of the death of Mary Queen of Scots (8 February), Historic Environment Scotland has released a digital 3D model of her death mask.

Today (8 February) marks 437 years since Mary Queen of Scots was executed and she remains a prominent figure in history. Yueqian Wang (pictured), digital innovation trainee, has created the digital model of the death mask as part of her training at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), offering the public a new way to view and interact with their collection.

The digital model of the mask was created through a process called photogrammetry, where hundreds of overlapping high-resolution photographs are taken around the object and then analysed by software to work out their relative position. These aligned photographs are then used to create an accurate photorealistic 3D model of the object with detailed editing work needed to ensure colours are true to the object, remove the noise on the mesh model, and apply an accurate texture to the digital rendering.

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The Digital Documentation and Innovation team at HES works to digitally document in 3D the properties and objects in its collection and uses new technologies to widen access and help increase our understanding of the past. The digital documentation of historic sites and objects gives new opportunities for those in the sector, as well as the public, to access detailed models, even if they are physically far away, and is fundamentally changing the way we interact with history.

Sharing stories from history

Yueqian Wang, Digital Innovation trainee, said, “Creating this model was hugely interesting but also challenging because I had to find ways to work round the metallic reflections and shadows captured in the photography, and make sure I was happy at each stage with what the software generated. I’ve always been interested in sharing stories from history with a wider audience as well as the practical side of heritage conservation. Digital Innovation is a perfect approach to work in both areas – I can share stories of the heritage object with more people by creating digital models, as well as supporting conservation experts by collecting detailed 3D data sets. The traineeship has given me the chance to work on fascinating projects, going on site visits across Scotland, seeing historic objects up close and learning how cutting-edge technology can be used in the heritage sector.”

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Yueqian Wang with the digital model

Death masks are a mould taken of an individual’s face after death and have been made by different cultures across the world for thousands of years. Usually, masks would be created by taking a cast or impression of the deceased’s face which could then be used as a mould to create the final mask, often in wax or plaster. The mask of Mary Queen of Scots in the HES Collection is a plaster cast taken from her tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey.

The digital 3D model is available to view on Sketchfab.

Report Historic Environment Scotland. Images copyright Historic Environment Scotland.