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It's 300 years since they died - here's what one of Ireland's best-known writers and his muse actually looked like

Human Remains Services Ireland (HRSI) have completed a project to reconstruct the visages of Jonathan Swift and his muse and companion Esther ‘Stella’ Johnson.

Stella-Swift_c The casts of Swift and Johnson's death masks Source: HRSI

273 YEARS AFTER his death at the age of 77, a new project has unveiled what Jonathan Swift, along with his muse Esther ‘Stella’ Johnson, actually looked like when they died.

Swift is a legend of Irish literature, a world-class satirist, with Gulliver’s Travels probably his best-known work.

For much of his life he operated with the assistance of his muse, Esther Johnson (dubbed Stella by the writer), 14 years his junior, who died in 1728 aged 47. The nature of the pair’s relationship has popularly been the subject of conjecture regarding its ambiguity.

Now, a new project by forensic anthropologists Human Remains Services Ireland (HRSI) has revealed to us what Swift and Stella looked like at their respective times of death.

The results were arrived at using differing disciplines such as forensic anthropology, forensic pathology, diagnostic imaging, 3D facial reconstruction and 3D printing.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The project was initially run to commemorate last November’s Jonathan Swift Festival, however the actual reconstructions are only now being presented to the public for the first time.

‘Swift and Stella – a Modern Post-Mortem’ used Swift’s death mask and skull cast and Johnson’s skull cast (no death mask, or even any portraits at all, of Johnson exist) in order to carry out a faithful facial reconstruction of the two. All the experts involved contributed their own time on a voluntary basis.

Both skull casts are currently on display in Dublin, Swift’s in St Patrick’s Cathedral (of which he famously was Dean), and Johnson’s in Archbishop Marsh’s Library, directly adjacent to the cathedral.

“We wanted to demonstrate the range of forensic techniques we use in actual cases (a goodly portion of HRSI’s work involves the identification of unknown human remains – and sometimes live subjects also),” says consultant forensic anthropologist with HRSI Dr René Gapert.

The results can be seen above. We think it’s fair to say, if Swift or Stella were roaming Dublin at present no-one would bat an eyelid. The reconstruction of the writer in particular is somewhat at odds with depictions of him dating from his own time:

Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail A portrait of Swift by Irish artist Charles Jervas dating from 1710, when the writer was 42 Source: Wikimedia Commons

The reconstructions were carried out by Dr Christopher Rynn, craniofacial anthropologist/forensic artist at the University of Dundee, who based his worked on CT (computed tomography) scans of the masks which gave a rendition of what the subjects’ faces looked like.

“While we have portraits and busts of Swift, this is the first time it has been possible to show what Stella may actually have looked like,” says Gapert.

Fascinating stuff.

You can learn more about HRSI here, while the project’s Facebook page can be found here

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