Agnès Sorel in the light of science
How a palaeopathological study unveils history and reveals a face.
The study presented here is the result of the relocation of the tomb/recumbent statue of Agnès Sorel from the Logis Royal - where it was installed after its restoration in 1809 - decided jointly by the City of Loches and the Conseil départemental d'Indre-et-Loire in 2004/2005, to its original location, the Collégiale Saint-Ours.
It is within this context that a scientific study was entrusted to Professor Philippe Charlier, involving twenty-two specialists from eighteen laboratories for six months, in order to verify the authenticity of the bones contained in the sandstone funerary urn - installed in the tomb after the exhumation/inhumation of 1777 - to specify the details of the royal favourite's biography (age, physical characteristics) and to shed light on the objective reasons for her death.
Several stages punctuated this study:
> X-ray examination of the urn at Lille University Hospital: presence of human remains confirmed.
> Identification of the bones
- 10/15% of the total skeleton preserved (fragments of the face and mandible) + rubble and metal fragments from the burial sarcophagus and identification of the bones of a 7-month-old foetus.
- Bone examination: predominantly female criteria, no disease detected, very light pigmentation.
|> Estimated age of the subject: the absence of vertebral osteoarthritis and the slight wear of the teeth indicate an estimated age range of between 20 and 30 years > Refined with carbon 14 dating: 24/28 years [i.e. an estimated birth date between 1422 and 1426].|
- Very fair pigmentation.
- Minimal wear and absence of caries; little dental calculus present. Conclusion: Youthfulness and excellent oral hygiene of the subject.
- Evidence of a mixed diet (meat and vegetables) indicating that the subject belongs to the upper social classes (nobility).
- Dental cementum analysis showing a minimum of three pregnancies throughout the life of the subject.
> Hair analysis
- The black colour is an artificial pigmentation due to the lead in the sarcophagus in which the subject was buried. The estimated natural hair colour is ash blonde.
- Upon examination under polarized light, a characteristic twist in the pulled back hair appears, identical to existing portraits of the subject.
- Particles of gold from the golden mantilla [a long, wide silk or lace scarf covering the head] holding the subject's hair at burial, attesting to the care taken to it.
- The hair analysed contains a very high amount of mercury (and lead - in relation to the burial sarcophagus).
> Analysis of the rotting fluid
Diagnosis of ascariasis (ascariasis infection: invasion of worms in the intestines of the subject) was established. The remedies corresponding to the period of the subject's life were: mercury, sulphur and salts associated with male fern (vermifuge).
|> Possible causes of death of the subject :
- An overdose of male fern could have been fatal.
- Mercury is identified as the most likely cause of death, due to massive overdose, 10,000 to 100,000 times the therapeutic dose.
It is impossible to determine from this evidence alone whether this was a therapeutic accident or a deliberate homicide. In the absence of further evidence, the question remains open.
Agnès Sorel's face revealed
In its final phase, the study resulted in the reconstruction of the subject's face on the basis of the skull remains. Following an initial modelling carried out in 2005, updated in 2015, a new realistic projection of Agnès Sorel's face - developed thanks to the compilation of data (sex, age and anthropometric indices) provided by Professor Philippe Charlier's scientific investigation - was entrusted to Philippe Froesch, who has acquired recognised expertise in modelling the faces of missing historical figures.
600 years after her death, Agnès Sorel finally reveals her true face.
- Portable reliquary containing hair and bone fragments of Agnès Sorel / Late 18th century – Early 19th century / 2014.0.75. Le Carroi museum in Chinon.
- Reproduction of Agnès Sorel's skull © Visual Forensic / 2022.
- Visual 1: Anonymous, Young Woman with a Dog [Presumed portrait of Agnès Sorel], French school, first half of the 16th century, France. Angers Museum of Fine Arts.
- Visual 2: Reconstruction of Agnès Sorel's face © Visual Forensic /ADAGP, 2022.