Simon Bolivar’s Death Mask: the Real Face of the South American Hero

What did Simon Bolivar really look like? There are plenty of portraits of the South American hero floating around. Some were painted during his lifetime, others after he died. The thing, several are quite fanciful. For example, a few years back, the then-president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, unveiled a new official portrait of Bolivar. In it, Simon looked like… Hugo Chavez!

So Hugo took some artistic licenses and got his dream of twinning with his hero and compatriot. But for those who prefer historical accuracy, here is what Simon Bolivar’s face really, truly looked like. (There is even a death mask that leaves out all the guesswork):

1. Simon Bolivar’s real face: the younger years

Painted portrait of a somewhat haughty young man. He is dressed in very elegant clothes. His dark curls cascade over his rosy-white forehead. His eyebrows are thick and dark. His big, brown eyes look directly at the painter. He has a straight pretty nose, thin lips, and a prominent but thin chin.
Simon at 21. Portrait made in France, c. 1805, by an unknown painter. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

This is how Simon Bolivar looked when he was twenty-one years old. The portrait shows the lively eyes described by his contemporaries, as well as the fancy clothes he liked wearing.

This portrait is a miniature. And it was made during the years Simon, who was from Venezuela, was living it up in France.

That the likeness was painted while he was living in Europe explains his paleness. Many of the later portraits show Simon with the tan he got from years of campaigning in the tropics.

A good thing about this painting is that a French artist made it. And at the time, the French were more skilled at making portraits than the South Americans who painted Simon later on.

Read more: Simon Bolivar in 15 facts: get to know the South American hero

2. Simon Bolivar’s real face: the most accurate portrait

Painted portrait of a middle-aged general. He wears a military uniform with decorations. He is thin. Both his face and his nose are long and thin. His eyes are biggish. His arched, thick eyebrows sit quite high on his face. He has a big forehead and high cheekbones. His hair is dark and wavy, he has long sideburns and a thick mustache. His complexion is a dark pinkish-tan.
Simon Bolivar thought this portrait truly resembled him. Painting by Jose Gil de Castro, c. 1824. Painted when Simon was 41. (Photo: Lima Art Museum/Public domain)

This portrait has the OK of Simon himself. He sent it to British General Robert Wilson along with a kind letter, in which he wrote: “I take the liberty of sending you a portrait of me made in Lima with the greatest accuracy and likeness.”


This portrait, made by a Peruvian artist, has some similarities with the one above. In both, Simon has black curly hair, big sideburns, a high forehead, thick eyebrows, big eyes with big eyelids, quite a distance between eyebrows and eyes, high cheekbones, prominent nose and chin, and a small mouth with thin lips.

His contemporaries agreed that Simon was not a stunner and described his face as “common” (yet women found him irresistible). They also wrote that his face got longer and thinner with age and that his chin became more and more prominent.

Read next: Bet You Didn’t Know These 9 Royals Are South Americans

3. Simon Bolivar’s real face taken from his death mask

Look no further to see Simon Bolivar’s real face.

When Simon died, his doctor made a death mask from his face. Soon after, an artist used it to sculpt this marble statue. So this is not an artistic rendition but a true likeness.

The statue decorates the house where Simon died in Santa Marta, Colombia.


Although Simon died at 47, he looked much older. He had strained himself for years. Simon fought in more than 100 battles. He also rode on horseback twice as much as Alexander the Great and 3 times as much as Napoleon. He put himself -and his army- through hell and back and survived tropical diseases. No one said freeing five South American countries from Spanish rule was going to be easy.

When he was in his late thirties, Simon himself acknowledged he looked like a man in his sixties. And after that, illnesses made him loose a lot of weight.

He finally died of tuberculosis, the same disease that killed both his parents decades before.

Don’t miss. Simon Bolivar’s Four Greatest Achievements

Death Masks: These Are the Real Faces of 11 of Your Favorite Historical Figures

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