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ca. 1733 ca. 1741 1746 1747 1748 1750

The Portrait of Bach That Was Lost In World War Two -
An Authentic "Alternative" to the Haussmann Image of Johann Sebastian Bach in his early 60s
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The Face Of Bach

Page 3 - The Provenance and the History of the Berlin Portrait Become a Matter of Great Importance!


The Face Of Bach


This remarkable photograph is not a computer generated composite; the original of the Weydenhammer Portrait Fragment, all that remains of the portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach that belonged to his pupil Johann Christian Kittel, is resting gently on the surface of the original of the 1748 Elias Gottlob Haussmann Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach.

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1748 Elias Gottlob Haussmann Portrait, Courtesy of William H. Scheide, Princeton, New Jersey
Weydenhammer Portrait Fragment, ca. 1733, Artist Unknown, Courtesy of the Weydenhammer Descendants
Photograph by Teri Noel Towe
©Teri Noel Towe, 2001, All Rights Reserved


The Portrait of Bach That Was Lost In World War Two
An Authentic "Alternative" to the Haussmann Image
of Johann Sebastian Bach in his early 60s

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Page 3

The Provenance and the History of the Berlin Portrait Become a Matter of Great Importance!


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The astounding realization that the Berlin Portrait almost certainly was a portrait from life of Johann Sebastian Bach that was contemporaneous with the Haussmann Portraits, particularly the 1748 version, compels a particularly through scrutiny of the provenance of the painting and a careful evaluation of the image to see if there are any other clues that might provide collateral, circumstantial evidence that it, in fact, does depict Johann Sebastan Bach, as the physiognomical comparison indicates.

Provenance and history first:

It comes as no surprise that our principal source for what little information there is about the provenance and history of the Berlin Portrait turns out to be Heinrich Besseler, who discusses the painting in at least three different venues. He wrote about the painting in both the 1956 and the 1959 issues of the Bach Jahrbuch, but he goes into the greatest detail in his account of the picture in his controversial and flawed but undeniably important monograph on the Bach portraits, Fünf Echte Bildnisse Johann Sebastian Bachs (Cassel, 1956), 1714-jerda-jsb-besseler-oofc-nocc-475.jpg  Loading 64868 bytes.

In a nutshell, the painting was first spotted in the window of a minor antique dealer's shop in Berlin, in 1939, by Manfred Gorke, a Bach scholar, whose impressive collection of Bach autographs, early copies, early editions, and Bachaina is now a part of the Bach Archiv in Leipzig. It is unclear if Gorke acquired the Berlin Portrait himself or bought it in partnership with Helmut Meyer, the proprietor of the then prominent Berlin art dealership, Kunsthandlung Meyer & Ernst, but after independent evaluation by Herr Prof. Dr. Georg Schünemann, the erstwhile Director of the Music Division of the Berlin State Library, who confirmed that the painting was Bach, in original condition, and in the original frame, Meyer offered the painting in his 1941 catalogue, at a price of 2500 RM. The unidentified purchaser came from the Ruhr Valley, and, as I remarked earlier, the painting appears to have been destroyed in the air raids in 1945.

On the surface, the provenance of the Berlin Portrait not only sounds impressive but also appears unimpeachable. Alas, neither Herr Gorke nor Herr Prof. Dr. Schünemann has an especially good track record when it comes to the authentication of composer portraits. Herr Prof. Dr. Schünemann was widely known for having authenticated both the portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori and the miniature purported to depict the composer Heinrich Schütz at the age of 85. I am not familiar with the details of the authentication of the portrait of Cristofori cristofori.jpg  Loading 52088 bytes, although I intend to investigate the matter for obvious reasons, but I do know that Herr Prof. Dr. Schünemann, it is now known, was taken in completely by the portrait miniature alleged to depict Heinrich Schütz as a man of 85, HS-1670-Forgery-if-0550.jpg  Loading 65057 bytes, a portrait that now is known to be a canny fake, fabricated by a cunning and knowledgeable forger, a forger who had studied the authentic Schütz portraits especially well.

Herr Gorke, whose many valuable and important contributions to Bach scholarship I intend in no way to disparage, was nonetheless also responsible for the "discovery" of the painting that was presented to the world as a portrait of Bach that had been painted by Haussmann in 1723, shortly after Bach's arrival in Leipzig. After Gorke found the painting about 1930, the portrait, much restored and heavily overpainted, made its way to the United States, and it was the subject of an article by Gerhard Herz in Musical Quarterly in 1943 (Vol. 29, pp. 225-241). The legendary, the redoubtable, and the utterly formidable Arthur Mendel and his equally knowledgeable and forceful colleague Hans Theodore David, the co-Editors of The Bach Reader, were persuaded to use this then recently rediscovered image as the frontispiece for the first edtion of the legendary and indispensable anthology The Bach Reader, now The New Bach Reader.

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The authenticity of the portrait as a work of Haussmann and its accuracy as a depiction of the facial features of Johann Sebastian Bach have both long since been thoroughly discredited, to the subsequent embarrassment of many, but how anyone could have given serious credence to the identification of the subject as Johann Sebastian Bach baffles me completely. At the age of eleven I even said to myself, "He doesn't look like Bach." As my dentist recently has confirmed, the man in the "Gorke-Haussmann Portrait" had a significant overbite. My knowledge of the affair is both anecdotal and "scholarly". Eventually the details of the whole sorry business became public knowledge. The best bald statement of the circumstances, comes, ironically enough, from Gerhard Herz, who first announced the discovery of the painting to the world, on page 177 of his invaluable Bach Sources in America, which was published in 1985.

While neither Herr Gorke nor Herr Prof. Dr. Schünemann has an unblemished track record, at least when it comes to forensic iconography and, in Herr Gorke's case, integrity, the reputation of the art gallery, Meyer & Ernst, appears to have been one of the highest integrity, but, once again, more research needs to be undertaken.

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Copyright, Teri Noel Towe, 2000 , 2002
Unless otherwise credited, all images of the Weydenhammer Portrait:  Copyright, The Weydenhammer Descendants, 2000
All Rights Reserved

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ca. 1733 ca. 1741 1746 1747 1748 1750


 

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Last update: Sunday, July 02, 2017 03:50