Imagine you're a protagonist in a story and you find a dead body, you go up to the corpse and find it's bloody face to be beautiful. How would you describe the corpse's face? Is there a specific word for it? I'm also trying to avoid saying, "His dead face was beautiful"
The previous answers on here seem to assert that a corpse could not possibly be beautiful due to the physiological processes that occur at or shortly after death. I would argue that these have little to do with your first question -- since we don't know the context of the scene, there is no way to decide whether or not a corpse could be beautiful. In order to avoid people just deciding that I would also caution against using in your description "Imagine you're a protagonist..." if you want answers to your initial question, because as the previous answers stated most normal, rational self-insert characters wouldn't arrive at any kind of beautiful. However, for example, if rather than oneself being the protagonist, this story takes place on an alien planet where dead creatures turn into diamonds, or the corpse was arranged by elves in a field of wildflowers, or your protagonist works at a morgue or is a serial killer who digs this kind of thing, there are situations where the protagonist could totally find the corpse beautiful.
Okay, so back to the initial question. I don't think this is a word or set of words kind of deal. It would be difficult for most characters to process, I think. If I were writing a protagonist who had reason to find the corpse's face beautiful, I would probably dedicate at least a paragraph or two to the details because this is something that would definitely hold all their attention if they came across it. Things like the pallor, blood, and pose could be described in some sort of "positive" light. Gray complexion could look like "slate," teeth could appear especially white when set against blue lips, veins showing through the skin could be described as cracks in the face of an antique china doll, strong features like jawline and overall shape would show through any blood on the face. Does the protagonist interact with the corpse, i.e. to check if it's alive or see who it is? If so then you've got another bunch of details - how the hair feels between their fingers, smell (probably wouldn't be pleasant in any context, but maybe the protagonist is able to look past it because they're so struck by this person), light hitting any jewelry when moved. Maybe a good way to show the protagonist finds them beautiful is to have them speculate about what they might have been like in life.
Other things to consider:
did the protagonist know this person?
does the corpse remind them of anyone important to them?
- how long have they been dead and what were the circumstances of death?
- how urgent is the protagonist's situation in this scene? (Ie do they have time to stop and really really examine, or must they hurry away?)
Hope this is helpful, good luck with your writing.
Unless the protagonist is sadistic, a necromancer, or an undertaker down on his/her luck, odds are that face won't be beautiful.
Depending on how long this person has been dead, and how they died, and how they're found... odds are it's going to be eerie, creepy, and downright horror and/or cringey.
Let me explain.
After a person dies, as in minutes after, they lose all muscle control. Meaning, if there was anything in their bowels or bladder? Well... HELLO WORLD!
Then comes the skin turning colour. Because the blood stops flowing, it changes colour. Slight at first, and highly dependent on skin colour, but noticeable all the same. Caucasians and light-skinned people turn greyish.
Then comes the lack of facial expression. Some like to say they look like they're sleeping. I call bullshit. They don't look like they're sleeping. It's a convenient little tale we tell ourselves. Because when people sleep, they BREATHE.
Then comes the creepiest point of all. If their eyes aren't closed, they look... Well. This depends on how long they were dead. But it's creepy no matter time lapse. First, there's the eyes being out of focus. Then there's the utter lack of expression. No matter what a person feels, it shows in the eyes. A lack of expression, therefore, is unnerving under normal circumstances. But when someone looks ahead with dead eyes? There's a reason this is used to convey a creepy sense. And if they're dead longer than a few hours (I can't recall exactly how long), their iris loses colour. It starts to look faded at first, dull almost. Slowly faded to white. Because the eyes decompose fastest, this means that the first thing people do is shut the eyes (not to make them look like they're sleeping, but to not freak anyone out).
Adding more time adds more issues. After two to three days the body should bloat from the gasses formed by decomposition. And don't get me started on the smell!
So uh. Yeah. How did this person die that they look peaceful?
+1 Fayth85. I have seen more than my fair share of the dead, including three of my own family members (in three separate incidents).
The best you can say is if your character has some experience with seeing live people become dead people, they might be able to tell that a dead face must have been beautiful when alive.
You can still absolutely recognize a person by their facial features a day after they have been killed, I don't know how much longer after that. Since they are recognizable, I think the kinds of facial features that make a man or woman "beautiful", well proportioned and sized features, should be recognizable too, as formerly beautiful.
But the pallor, stillness, slackness and dryness (skin, eyes, lips, mouth if open), are not going to strike an observer as "beautiful" in the moment.
First let me say that the notion that a dead face cannot be beautiful is nonsense. Some may never has seen a dead face they found beautiful, but many have, and I see no reason not to believe them.
But whether a dead face is objectively beautiful (supposing you are willing to grant the traditional western view, now not much in favor, that beauty is an objective quality that all properly educated people will see), is irrelevant in a story context. What matters is whether the character sees the face as beautiful, which they may or may not independent of its objective beauty. The faces of loved ones are commonly more attractive to us than the faces of strangers. So, a character may well see the face of a dead loved one as beautiful even if objective observers would disagree, and this is a question about expressing that perception, not about objectively evaluating it.
But to address the question itself, beauty, particularly beauty of a face, is extremely hard to define. You can talk about the shape of the eyes of the length of the nose or the fullness of the lips, but none of that is ever going to bring a particular image of beauty into the reader's mind. (Ugliness is much easier to convey, since blemishes and deformities can be named and instantly create a impression of ugliness.)
There are all kinds of impressions you can create by describing the characteristics of something in words, but there are things you simply can't. We can describe what things taste like, for instance, except by naming things with similar tastes. We have no words for tastes themselves. Sometimes you have no choice but to name the effect. In short, the best way to say that the face of the corpse was beautiful is to say that is was beautiful.