Face of Mary, Queen of Scots, revealed

To mark the anniversary of Mary Queen of Scots’ death, Historic Environment Scotland has released a digital 3D model of Mary’s face based on her death mask.

Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed on February 8, 1587, remains a prominent figure in history. To mark 437 years since her death, Yueqian Wang of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has created the digital model of her death mask 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.

“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,” said Yueqian Wang, who is a trainee with HES’ Digital Documentation and Innovation department. “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.”

Photo courtesy Historic Environment Scotland

Death masks are moulds 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 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.