Science: Renovated Royalty

The finicky art of the restorer—a combination of science, skill and luck—has just had a strenuous workout on some early rulers of England.

In medieval times, royal funerals were too lengthy for the current embalming methods. Sometimes, according to the records of Westminster Abbey, "the smell was most offensive in spite of clouds of incense." So the English took to making effigies of their deceased royalty and using them as funereal stand-ins.

A plaster death mask was taken soon after the royal person died. Sometimes the mask was painted in lifelike colors; sometimes carvers made a faithful wooden copy. A rough body of...

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