Imaging Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s Death Masks

by Jeffrey Tucker, Church History Department
22 November 2022

Learn about how Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s death masks were photographed and turned into three-dimensional digital images.

There has long been interest in knowing what the Prophet Joseph Smith actually looked like. For years, the only way that many people have seen a likeness of him was via paintings, like those featured in Church meetinghouses or publications, or statues, like the one on Temple Square. There is, however, another way to imagine what Joseph as well as his brother Hyrum looked like—their death masks.1 The Church History Department holds many copies of the death masks, but there are two sets that, due to their age and provenance, are frequently used by historians. These two sets are often referred to as the Dibble masks and the Pedestal masks. The Church History Museum’s website provides additional detail on the history of the Dibble and Pedestal death masks; in brief, the Dibble masks are so named because of Philo Dibble, an early Saint who owned them for several decades. They are brown in color with occasional white patches where past restoration work was performed. These masks have been publicly exhibited by the Church History Museum for years.

The Pedestal masks, on the other hand, are white masks that rest atop a large lump of plaster, the display “pedestal” that gives them their name. These masks are more polished than the Dibble masks, resulting in subtle changes to the masks’ appearance (for example, Hyrum’s cleft chin is only noticeable in this set, but other details have been lost). Not much is known about these masks’ history, though we do know John Taylor took them to a sculptor in England to use as the basis for busts of Joseph and Hyrum.

Recently, the collection care specialists in the Church History Department completed a project to photograph the Dibble and Pedestal death masks and combine the photographs into three-dimensional digital images. The resulting 3D images are incredibly detailed, allowing you to examine the death masks on your personal device in a completely new way.

The creation of the 3D images was a long process. Using an image capture method called photogrammetry, our specialists took hundreds of images of the masks at 10-degree increments until all the sides and angles were recorded.

An in-process shot showing the camera’s path as it photographs a death mask from all sides.

Then, using modeling software, these images were combined to create an incredibly detailed 3D “mesh” model made up of millions of polygons. Images from the capture were also used to generate a “texture,” which was applied to the mesh surface to create a smooth 3D model that can be zoomed in on and rotated in any direction.

The “mesh” of Joseph Smith’s death mask made from polygons.

The 3D models are available in three file formats: a .zip file, which contains .obj, .mtl, and .jpg files that can be used with most 3D image viewers; .glb, compatible with Microsoft/Android devices; and .usdz, for Apple/iOS. To download a file, click on its link below:

Dibble mask: Joseph Smith

Dibble mask: Hyrum Smith

Pedestal mask: Joseph Smith

Pedestal mask: Hyrum Smith

Downloadable viewers for all file types can be found by searching the internet for “3D image viewer.”

With the ongoing interest in Joseph Smith’s true appearance—and, by extension, Hyrum’s—we hope that these 3D models of the death masks will enable further research. For additional research help, you can contact our research consultants via our Ask Us service.

Top image: Joseph Smith’s death mask prepared for image capture in the Church History Library.