Spinoza Death Mask (Archive)

This spectacular image was recently discovered in a box in an archive in a library at Columbia University, about which you can read here in this write-up by Marianna Najman-Franks (Barnard ’22). She found the death mask while working through the Oko Collection, donated by Adolph S. Oko about which and whom you can read here.

I am not entirely sure what to do with this image of an important and well-known philosopher, a major presence in the history and practice of Jewish philosophy and thought, biblical exegesis and politics, religion and metaphysics. Maybe stare at it, but then what? A first thought concerns the shock of recognition. A second thought is that this plastic, indexical impression speaks to the passage of time and our attention to it. There is also an object-character and the technological dimension that allows us to see this “thing.”

But what about that first recognition? What “clearly” identifies the mask as “belonging” to Spinoza is its location in this particular archive, the Oko Collection. When I said on FB that this doesn’t look anything “like” the Spinoza that we know from the portraits, Fred MacDowell faceapped it to make it look, as he said, “a bit more like Spinoza.” He blended the digital photograph of the death mask with a digital copy of a well known portrait of Spinoza. I’m including the digitally enhanced photo here below, but please note that the digital photograph below is NOT the original image, but an image of the image of the death mask.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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