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The Search for the Portrait that Belonged to Kittel Pages at The Face Of Bach
The Queens College Lecture of March 21, 2001 - Page 2 - The Conundrum of the Lost Portrait

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 Search for the Portrait that Belonged to Kittel

The Queens College Lecture of March 21, 2001

Page 2

The Conundrum of the Missing Portrait

Of course, the legendary, the redoubtable, and the utterly formidable Arthur Mendel, the co-Editor with Hans Theodore David of The Bach Reader, was also living in Princeton. Profs. David and Mendel had gotten stung, and stung but good, in 1945, when they put out the first edtion of the legendary and indispenable anthology The Bach Reader. They were persuaded to use as the frontispiece a then recently discovered painting that was alleged to be a portrait of Bach by Haussmann that dated from about the time that Bach moved to Leipzig from Cöthen, in other words about 1723.

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I first had seen this image when I was about eleven, in the copy of The Bach Reader that I found in the Performing Arts section of the old Greenwich Public Library, and I recall that, even then, I found it both puzzling and unconvincing, although I could not then articulate why. But I distinctly remember that it did not look like Bach to me; even then, it was not the face I knew.

The credibily of the image began to unravel in 1950, when the 1748 Haussmann portrait surfaced. By 1964, the fact that the painting was, in fact, a forgery brilliantly conceived by Manfred Gorke, had become documented, public knowledge. The best succinct statement of the affair is provided, ironically, by Gerhard Herz, the musicologist who announced the painting's existence to the world in 1943, on page 177 of his invaluable 1985 book, Bach Sources in America.

In the long run, the decision to make this portrait the frontispiece of The Bach Reader proved a lingering embarrassment for Profs. David and Mendel, and, by the time that he prepared the Revised Edition in 1966, Prof. David having moved on to other endeavors, Prof. Mendel not only had become a "strict constructionist" with regards to any questions concerning the Bach iconography but also had become a member of the Princeton University faculty and the Chairman of the Music Department. It therefore comes as no surprise that the "bogus Bach" of the 1945 edition was replaced by the 1748 Haussmann portrait.

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Both the 1945 edition and the 1966 edition of The Bach Reader contain a second portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, a reproduction of the earliest portrait print, which was not engraved until 1774, nearly a quarter of a century after Bach died.

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This print was engraved by Samuel Gottlob Kütner, a school chum in Leipzig of C. P. E.'s son, Johann Sebastian II, the namesake of his grandfather and a talented artist who died too young, at the age of 30.

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The Kütner print is fascinating for several reasons. First of all, it is the only portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach about which anyone within his own family is known to have left an evaluation. On April 20, 1774, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach sent a letter to his father's first biographer, Johann Nicolaus Forkel, in which he pays the engraving a backhanded, carefully worded, and arguably sarcastic compliment that long has intrigued me: "..., I shall have the pleasure of dispatching to you a recent copper engraving, finely done, and a fair likeness of my dear late father's portrait." Please note that C. P. E. says that it is a fair likeness of the portrait; he does not say that it is fair likeness of his father, per se.

Another interesting question concerns Kütner's own access to the 1748 Haussmann portrait, which, by the 1773-1774 academic year, was in Hamburg with C. P. E., who had succeeeded his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as that city's Director musices in 1768. That he was a friend and student colleague of the younger Johann Sebastian is documented, but when and where did Kütner see the 1748 version of the Haussmann, on which the engraving is clearly based, in order to copy it, if he actually saw the original at all?

One plausible scenario: Kütner took a vacation trip to Hamburg with his school chum, and the project was conceived, undertaken, and completed then and there. But, while that is possible, it somehow seems unlikely that Kütner actually engraved the image directly to the plate in C. P. E.'s home, with the 1748 Haussmann portrait in front of him. It would have been easier for him to make a good reference drawing from which to work at his leisure upon his return to Leipzig.

There is another possible scenario, however, that should not be overlooked. Johann Sebastian the Younger was himself an artist after all, and a good one. Is it not possible that it was he who made a now apparently lost "Stichvorlag" drawing of the 1748 Haussmann portrait of his grandfather, from which Kütner then engraved his portrait print?

But I am getting much too far afield! If you share my fascination with this unusual image and its many implications, please have a look at the page devoted to it at my website, The Face Of Bach.

As I said, Prof. Mendel was an arch-conservative when it came to the Bach iconography. He had put his hand on the hot stove once, and he was not about to get burned again. In the Supplement to the Revised Edition of The Bach Reader, Prof. Mendel added an impassioned discussion of the various putative Bach portraits; he was particularly harsh on the image familarly known as the Meiningen Pastel:

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"Whether one sees in it any strong resemblance to the Bach of the Haussmann portraits is perhaps a personal matter", Prof. Mendel wrote; "the editors do not." (Mendel '66, pp. 424)

The problem, of course, is exactly that: The Meiningen Pastel is not a portrait based on the Haussmann model and therefore, at least initially, comes as something of a shock to those with the Haussmann portraits firmly embedded in their souls. The Meiningen Pastel is almost a miniature, measuring about 6 inches wide by about 9 inches tall. It is the equivalent of a large snapshot in size. But, despite the many attempts to discredit it and to cast doubt on the family tradition that accompanies it, the Meiningen Pastel has the best shot at the one thing that neither of the Haussmann portraits has: a clear and arguably unbroken provenance.

And therein lies a rub: If provenance is the primary factor, the Meiningen Pastel becomes the standard, and the Haussmann portraits become "also rans".

But, no matter what the issues, no matter how contentious those issues, and no matter what the resolutions of those issues, one conundrum of Bach portraiture so far has remained unsolved, and almost defiantly so.

The Fermat's Last Theorem of Bach iconography for at least a century and a half is the gnawing question:

What became of the portrait of Bach that belonged to his pupil Johann Christian Kittel (1732-1809), for more than a half a century the organist of the Predigerkirche in Erfurt?

This portrait, which disappeared from sight after it was sold at the auction of Kittel's estate late in 1809, always has held a particular fascination for those of us who are interested in what Bach looked like, at least partly because the tantalizing bits of information that have been handed down to us make it clear to anyone who considers the sources carefully that the portrait was painted earlier than the familiar Haussmann portraits and that it depicts a Bach who might have looked substantially different from the Bach familiar to us from the Haussmann portraits.

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But how different did the Bach of the Kittel portrait look, and how would we know that the portrait that belonged to Kittel is, in fact, the portrait that belonged to Kittel when and if it ever does turn up?

The Kittel portrait is also a source of fascination not only because did it disappear without a trace, but also because no supplicant for recognition as the long lost portrait that belonged to Kittel has ever matched completely what little we know about the portrait's appearance.

What are our sources of information? They are, essentially, four.

The first two of these are the two entries to be found in the legendary Lexikon that was assembled by Ernst Ludwig Gerber (1746-1819), the son of one of Sebastian Bach's most devoted pupils, Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber. That the Gerber Lexikon is a major source of information about the portrait that belonged to Kittel is particularly significant, because of the close relationship between Bach and the lexicographer's father.

Ernst Ludwig Gerber's obsession with composer iconography was even greater than mine is, and it led inexorably to the assembly of a series of volumes on music and musicians that remains an invaluable and essential research tool to this day. Because Gerber had personal contact with, and first-hand knowledge of, many of the personages and images on which he reports, his commentaries have shown themselves to be particularly reliable. In addition, his having cut a deal with the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna for the purchase of his amazing collection during his own lifetime assured not only the preservation of the resources that made his life's work possible but also the easy accessibility to most of his source material, if necessary. (I write "most" because, as Othmar Wessely, who prepared the indispensable, annotated modern facsimile reprint of the Neues hist.-biogr. Lexikon der Tonkünstler, points out in his entry on Gerber in the "New Grove", "At his death, however, his collection seems not to have passed to the new owners in its entirety..." [ed. S. Sadie, New Grove, Vol. 7, p. 247, London, 1980])

The first reference to the portrait of Bach that Kittel owned is contained iin the biographical entry on Johann Christian Kittel that appears in the 1812 edition of the Neues hist.-biogr. Lexikon der Tonkünstler, Volume 3, column 58. Here is a scan of the passage in question, the source of the famous anecdote about Kittel's unusual method of rewarding his pupils for having performed well during a lesson:


Here is the translation of the passage that Prof. Mendel provides in the 1966 Edition of The Bach Reader:

"As a special form of reward and punishment for his pupils [Kittel] used an oil painting of Joh. Sebast. Bach -- a fine likeness -- which he had recently acquired and hung over his clavier. If a pupil showed industry worthy of this Father of Harmony, the curtain covering it was drawn aside. For the unworthy, on the other hand, Bach's countenance remained hidden." (Mendel '66, pp. 425-426)

Gerber provides additional information about the painting, and how Kittel acquired it, in Volume 4 of the Lexikon, which was published in 1814. Here are scans of that passage, which is spread over columns 735 and 736 and is part of an alphabetically organized inventory of composer portraits:

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Here is the passage, translated into English:

"Bach (Joh. Sebast.) Painted in oils and very well preserved, collection of Mr. Kittel in Erfurt. He acquired it in 1798 in Langensalza; probably from the Estate of the Duchess of Weissenfels. Also painted in oils at the Thomasschule in Leipzig."

The last sentence is somewhat vexing, because it is unclear whether Gerber means that Bach sat for the portrait in his residence within the Thomasschule or he is alluding to a second oil portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, namely the 1746 Haussmann portrait, which had been in the Thomasschule since 1801/1802, the year that it was brought there by August Eberhard Müller when he took up his duties as Thomascantor, and then given by him to the Thomasschule in 1809, when he resigned the Cantorship and moved to Weimar as Court Capellmeister.

Although Gerber himself does not directly connect Kittel's acquisition of the painting to the particular occasion, in the biographical entry from which I quoted earlier, he refers to another important event in Kittel's career that took place in that year:

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Here is a translation of the pertinent parts of the passage:

"Kittel had the honor, on November 24, 1798, of playing the organ in Predigerkirche [in Erfurt] for the widowed Queen of Prussia, the Duke of Weimar, the Prince of Homburg and the Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt....and, after he had finished, he came down from the organ loft, and the Queen conversed with him for quite a long time."

It is assumed by Werner Neumann, in his exhaustive and informative commentary on the various Bach portraits, real and unreal, that appears at the back of his remarkable photographic anthology, Bilddokumente zur Lebensgeschichte Johann Sebastian Bachs (VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik Leipzig, Leipzig, 1979), the 4th Volume of the indispensable Bach-Dokumente series, and by other scholars as well, that Kittel received the portrait of Bach as a gift from these noble personages on that occasion, but there is, as yet, no independent proof of the validity of that assumption.

The third source of information on the lost portrait of Bach that belonged to Kittel is the biography of Sebastian Bach by Carl Ludwig Hilgenfeldt that was published in Leipzig in 1850, in conjunction with the commemoration of the centenary of Bach's death.

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On page 169, three pages from the end of his monograph on Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Ludwig Hilgenfeldt begins a discussion of the portraits of Johann Sebastian Bach with a description of the oil painting of Bach that belonged to Johann Christian Kittel that contains a tantalizing detail that is not to be found in Gerber's Lexikon.

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In English, Hilgenfeldt's description is best translated as:

"Johann Sebastian Bach had his portrait painted many times during his lifetime. Of the various oil paintings that existed, probably the oldest [i.e, the earliest to be painted], was a bust portrait in which Bach is presented in official regalia, that was completed in the fourth decade of the last century. It was to be found in the collection of Kittel, the last of Bach's pupils, who obtained in 1798 from Langensalza, most likely from the Estate of the deceased Duchess of Weissenfels, and who preserved and revered it like a holy relic. It hung in a heavy gold frame, covered by a curtain, in his studio, over the clavier.... After his death, it was to be hung in the Church at which Kittel was the organist."

Yet again, we have to deal with wording that is vexing. The most problemmatical words in Hilgenfeldt's description are "um die Mitte der Vierziger Jahre des vorigen Jahrhunderts". What does he mean by "Vierziger Jahre"? Most have understood this to mean the 1740s, but, if Hilgenfeldt does mean the 1740s, the description of the painting as "das muthmasslich älteste" ("probably the oldest", i.e., the earliest to have been painted) makes little, if any, sense, particularly since Hilgenfeldt accurately describes the 1746 Haussmann portrait, which by then had been in the Thomasschule for almost 50 years, a few paragraphs later.

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If, however, one interprets "Vierziger Jahre" as meaning the fourth decade, i.e., the 1730s, Hilgenfeldt's description of the portrait that belonged to Kittel as "probably the oldest" makes perfect sense.

But it is Hilgenfeldt's physical description of the painting that is most intriguing:

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Hilgenfeldt wrote: "... ein Brustbild, Bach im Staatskleide darstellend". This passage is almost always translated incorrectly, but, regardless of the accuracy of the translation, Hilgenfeldt's description of the appearance of the painting, is, to the best of my knowledge, unique. The specific statement that the portrait is a bust portrait and, more importantly, that it depicts Bach in official regalia of one kind or another (something, as I have already hinted, that sets the Kittel portrait apart from every other known authentic image) implies either that Hilgenfeldt had actually seen the portrait or that he knew someone who had and who had described it to him.

How accurate are Gerber's and Hilgenfeldt's accounts?

Werner Neumann explored the question in some detail in the commentary to which I referred a couple of minutes ago. (At this point, I must say that Prof. Neumann's Bilddokumente zur Lebensgeschichte Johann Sebastian Bachs is a research reference tool that is worth its weight in gold. This oversized volume also weighs about as much as a gold brick, and I never pick up my copy that I do not recall with gratitude that Mordy and Irma Bauman showed me the kindness of schlepping a copy back from the DDR for me at a time when the book was well nigh impossible to obtain in the USA.) The English translation of Prof. Neumann's commentary that is provided in Bilddokumente was made by Anne Wyburd, and it is entitled "The Principal problems of Bach Iconography - 18th Century Portraits of Bach supported by documentary evidence".

I will now read most of her translation of the text of Professor Neumann's account of the portrait that belonged to Kittel, interjecting my amendments, corrections, and comments at the appropriate points:

"The lexicographer Ernst Ludwig Gerber (II/4, 1814, col. 735) reported that Johann Christian Kittel (1732-1809), organist at the Dominican church in Erfurt and a former pupil of Bach's, owned a portrait: 'Mr. Kittel in Erfurt owns a very well-preserved oil-painting Bach (John. Sebast.). He obtained it in 1798 from Langensalz, perhaps from the estate of the Duchess of Weissenfels. Also painted in oils in St. Thomas's School in Leipzig.' This duchess is not of course, as many suppose the 'Louise Christine' mentioned with 'Prince Christian' in Bach's Hunting Cantata, for she died at Weissenfels in 1738, but Friderike, second wife of the next and last Duke Johann Adolph II (who ruled from 1736 to 1746), who after the incumbered Weissenfels residence had been closed and sequestered in 1746 lived in the dower-house in Langensalza until 1775.

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The reliability of Gerber's information does not therefore seem to be wholly proved."

Nor, conversely, has its reliability been disproven. Accepting, arguendo, that the painting came originally from the collections of the Dukes of Sachsen-Weissenfels, Gerber's statement cannot be considered unreliable unless and until the household records of the Duchy, for the Augustusburg and the erstwhile Hunting Lodge in Weissenfels as well as the Dower House in Langensalza, have been shown not to include the painting. I might add that the possibility that the painting had made its way to the Dower House in Langensalza suggests that Kittel might have seen the painting for the first time as early as 1751, the year after Bach's death, because his first job after leaving Leipzig was as a school teacher and organist in Langensalza. He stayed there for five years, until he moved back home to Erfurt, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. If during his five years in Langensalza he had occasion to visit the Dowager Duchess, it is well nigh impossible to believe that he would not have been shown the portrait. At that point, the face of Bach, on which Kittel was among the last to gaze, would still have been fresh in his mind. Such an encounter with the portrait, of course, also would have alerted him to its existence.

Prof. Neumann continues:

"Kittel's acquisition of the portrait is probably connected with the organ recital of 24 November 1798, also fully documented by Gerber (II/3, 1813, cols. 57/58), which he gave in the Dominican church before four noble personages (the widowed Queen of Prussia, the Duke of Weimar, the Prince of Homburg and the Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt) and after which 'the queen talked to him for a while'. In another place (II/2, 1813, col. 58) Gerber describes how 'a close likeness in oils of Joh. Sebast. Bach which he had recently received and hung over his piano' was by drawing a curtain back and forth made to serve 'as an original way of rewarding or punishing his pupils... After his death this beloved portrait was to be hung on the organ in the church.' Carl Ludwig Hilgenfeldt (1850) fills in some details: 'Bust, showing Bach in robes' - 'painted in about the mid-forties of the last century' - 'in a heavy gilded frame'."

I have already mentioned the uncertainty about what Hilgenfeldt means by "vierziger Jahre", but there is one more significant part of the translation that is inaccurate.

Hilgenfeldt wrote: "... ein Brustbild, Bach im Staatskleide darstellend".


By translating "Staatskleide" as "robes", Anne Wyburd has jumped to a conclusion for which she has no basis, a conclusion which implies an assumption of fact that she has no grounds for making. "Staatskleide" means, literally, "State clothing", or, to put it more colloquially, "official regalia", "uniform", "livery", or "finery". In addition to Bach's official cantorial robes, evidencing his office within the Thomasschule and the Thomaskirche, the term "Staatskleide" encompasses, at least, (1) official regalia as Director musices of the City of Leipzig, (2) official regalia as Court Composer to the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, and (3) official regalia as Capellmeister von Haus aus to the Duke of Sachsen-Querfurt und Weissenfels; perhaps Bach's official ties to the Paulinerkirche, the Leipzig University church, brought with them the prerogative of wearing a certain type of academic gown, too. What these kinds of garments looked like, and what their colors were, obviously is a matter of crucial importance to the task of authenticating any aspirant to the title "The Long Lost Portrait of Bach that belonged to Kittel."

Back to Prof. Neumann:

"Lively debate has arisen around this information on the style, origin and location of this picture and different hypotheses have been evolved, some believing it depicts Bach in his old age (Kittel, who was one of his later pupils found it a 'close likeness',"

That Kittel found it a close likeness does not mean that the painting dates from Bach's last years; such an unjustified conclusion becomes even less defensible when one considers that Kittel's first encounter with the painting may have taken place as early as a year after Bach's death.

Prof. Neumann again:

Hilgenfeldt dated it at 'about the mid forties',"

As I have already pointed out, not once, but twice, there is a problem (or, at least, a potential one) with the translation. Hilgenfeldt wrote "etwa um die Mitte der vierziger Jahre des vorigen Jahrhunderts angefertigt". Ms. Wyburd, and others, have translated "vierziger Jahre des vorigen Jahrhunderts" as "about the mid-forties" or the equivalent. But, as I remarked earlier, is that what Hilgenfeldt actually meant? Could "vierziger Jahre" have meant "fourth decade" to a mid 19th century Saxon? If such an interpretation is plausible, the portrait would date from the mid 1730s, and Hilgenfeldt's statement that the Kittel portrait was the oldest of the four that he knew no longer seems odd, as Prof. Neumann suggests later in his commentary.

Prof. Neumann once more:

"Gerber connected it with the St. Thomas's School picture)"

This time it is Prof. Neumann who jumps to the wrong conclusion. Gerber wrote: "Auch in Oel gemalt auf der Thomasschule in Leipzig". Admittedly, my German is not the best, and this is early 19th century German, but, as I said earlier, I interpret this statement to mean either (1) that there was a second oil painting of Bach, and that it was at the Thomasschule, which was, in fact, the case by the time Gerber wrote this statement, since August Eberhard Muller had given the 1746 Haussmann portrait to the School in 1809, when he resigned the Cantorship to take the position of Capellmeister in Weimar, or (2) that Bach sat for the oil painting in his apartment in the Thomasschule. The first seems the more accurate interpretation of the passage, but, no matter what the accurate translation is, the passage definitely does not say that Kittel's portrait was in any way linked to the portrait in the Thomasschule.

Prof. Neumann:

"and some in middle age, since Duke Christian, to whom Bach was Kapellmeister until 1736, obviously commissioned it."

That the portrait may have been painted on commission for Duke Christian of Sachsen-Querfurt und Weissenfels (1682-1736) has important implications, implications that ought not to be underestimated.

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If the portrait was painted at Duke Christian's command, Bach himself would have had little control over either the form or the content of the painting. Those decisions, ultimately, would have been Duke Christian's or the as yet unidentified portraitist's. Christian von Sachsen-Querfurt und Weissenfels was paying the bill and therefore able to dictate the details of the commission, and for that reason Bach would have had little influence on the form and content of the portrait. Bach, therefore, would have been in a position quite different from that in 1746 and 1748, when he sat for Haussmann and paid for the portraits out of his own pocket.

Furthermore, if the portrait that belonged to Kittel was painted at the instigation of Duke Christian, it would have been logical for Bach to be portrayed in his "public" persona and that he would sit for the portrait in his official regalia as Capellmeister vonHaus aus, a clear indicium of his high stature within the Saxon musical and cultural hierarchy in general and within Weissenfels court circles in particular.

Finally, if it were painted for one of the Dukes of Sachsen-Querfurt und Weissenfels, the portrait would not likely have been painted for Christian's successor, because, upon his accession, Duke Johann Adolf II, who was the General Feldmarschall of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland's army, promptly disbanded the court's permanent musical establishment and disbanded it completely, apparently keeping only the resident Capellmeister, Georg Lenck, on full time salary. It is not likely, therefore, that he had any urge to commission a portrait of the Capellmeister von Haus whose honorary title he had just completely extinguished, although, to be fair, it is possible, considering his exalted position within the King-Elector's circle, that Johann Adolf II used his considerable influence to advance Bach's ultimately successful campaign to obtain a similar title from the King-Elector.

Prof. Neumann:

"Attempts have been made to identify it with the disputed portrait of Bach in old age [the Volbach portrait], the Haussmann replica of 1748, C. P. E. Bach's Haussmann portrait or an unknown portrait which vanished in about 1812."

The 1748 Haussmann cannot be the Kittel portrait because it does not match the description; Bach is not dressed in "Staatskleide" in either of the two Haussmann portraits.

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The Volbach Portrait must be eliminated on the same grounds.

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What the portrait that "vanished in about 1812" may or may not have been is yet another subject for investigation, but, for the present at least, that enigma is way outside the scope of this presentation.

Prof. Neumann, once again:

"There is no reliable foundation for Albert Schweitzer's fanciful and often quoted story: 'During the Napoleonic Wars when the church was used as a hospital, it disappeared with other valuable paintings. The French soldiers sold old Bach to a junk-dealer for a few glasses of schnapps.' (J. S. Bach, Leipzig 1908, p. 147)

Most of these theories and legends are discredited by a document not yet evaluated in this context -- the 1809 estate and auction catalogue from Erfurt entitled 'List of musicalia and musical writings from the estate of the deceased organist Mr. Kittel of Erfurt, to be auctioned on Tuesday, 24 October and the following days ...' On p. 39 of this catalogue we have: 'Bach (Joh. Seb.) Kapellmeister and Music Director in Leipzig. Painted in oils, 2 feet 4 inches high, 2 feet wide. In gold frame'. (Measures in Prussian feet; thus 73.2 x 62.8 cm.) This remarkable similarity to the description in the list of C. P. E. Bach's estate dated 1790, in spite of slightly different measurements and no artist's name, makes it almost certain that it came from his collection, which is known to have remained intact until 1797, so that Hilgenfeldt's statement of 1850 about the four portraits known to him (Kittel, C. P. E. Bach, St. Thomas's, Anna Amalia) oddly enough describing the first as apparently the oldest, must be regarded as inconclusive."

As I have already pointed out, there may well not be any reason to describe "Hilgenfeldt's statement of 1850 about the four portraits known to him (Kittel, C. P. E. Bach [Haussmann 1748], St. Thomas's [Haussmann 1746], Anna Amalia [von Liszewsky copy of Haussmann 1748])" as "oddly enough describing 'the first as apparently the oldest'...."

The auction catalogue, of course, is our fourth and final source of information about the portrait of Bach that belonged to Kittel, and it is of great value because it gives us a clear idea of the size and shape of the painting.

But, and this is an important "but", to allege that the painting that belonged to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and the lost portrait that belonged to Kittel are one and the same by relying on the close similarity of the dimensions of the painting sold at the auction of Kittel's effects to the dimensions of the Haussmann portrait that left the hands of C. P. E. Bach's heirs in 1796 or 1797, months before Gerber tells us that Kittel obtained his, is to build a house upon the shifting sands of wishful thinking. The coincidence is just that, a coincidence, nothing more, and nothing less. I suspect that it was no different in the 18th century than it is today. Commercial portraits came in standard sizes. Painters worked in standard sizes, particularly when painting on commission, and they kept stretchers and canvas, pre-cut, in stock, and the price varied, to some extent, on the size image that the client selected. This surmise presents a practical consideration that ultimately will have to be investigated and confirmed, but this old photograph of the Council Chamber in the Altes Rathaus in Leipzig provides an interesting gloss on the issue:

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In this photograph one sees not only the original of the 1746 Haussmann portrait of Bach but also the original of the 1727 Haussmann portrait of the brilliant brass player, Gottfried Reiche (1667-1734), for whom Bach wrote a number of his most florid tromba and clarino parts. These portraits are the same size. On the wall above the elaborately carved Renaissance cabinet are monumental portraits of the three generations of high Sachsen potentates; these portraits also are all the same size.

"In any case the legend of the painting being hung on the organ at Kittel's request and it strange fate during the Napoleonic Wars loses credibility in the face of the auction catalogue dated six months after Kittel's death."

Not necessarily. Is the following scenario beyond the realm of possibility?

A friend who knows what Kittel's clearly expressed intentions were is irate that those intentions are being disregarded by the fiduciaries of his Estate. The friend buys the painting at the sale and gives it to the church to be hung on the organ of the Predigerkirche in the way that Kittel had directed.

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Under such circumstances it would be easy to reconcile the anecdote that Schweitzer repeats with the historical record.

Whether the painting made it to the organ loft of the Predigerkirche or not, one thing is certain:

The portrait in oils of Johann Sebastian Bach that was the treasured possession of his disciple Johann Christian Kittel vanishes from sight after that auction in Erfurt in October of 1809, and it has remained hidden ever since.

Over the course of the three decades that have elapsed since I graduated from Princeton, I have pondered the conundrum of the portrait that belonged to Kittel from time to time, but, of course, I turned my mind and energies to more urgent matters. I thought about it, however, when I was commisioned to produce the first American release of Helmuth Rilling's integral series of recording of the Bach Cantatas for the Musical Heritage Society. There was enough money in the budget to commision original cover art, and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask a good and sympathetic friend, Angelo Romano, a talented realist painter who died much too young, to paint me a portrait of Bach. I lent him photos of the 1748 Haussmann portrait and the Volbach portrait to use as models. He did a pencil drawing and an oil sketch. The oil sketch ended up on the booklet cover, and the original oil still hangs on the wall in my bedroom.


I thought about the whereabout of Kittel's portrait during the tercentenary celebrations of Bach's birth, when the arrival on the scene of the group portrait that some contend depicts Bach and three of his sons caused a big fuss.

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The Kittel Portrait mystery passed through my mind yet again in 1989, when I visited Leipzig for the first time and saw both the full length statue of Bach by Carl Seffner that stands on a high pedestal in the Thomaskirchof and one of the portrait busts that Seffner created at the time that he worked with Wilhelm His on the Exhumation Report on Bach's remains.

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The conundrum of the portrait that belonged to Kittel was one of the reasons I began a page devoted to the Bach portraits at my home pages on the internet. Incomplete and inexact though it may be, that initial effort is still there as a cyber-document that now has, as you will soon learn, a certain historical significance, complete with one particularly ghastly gaffe, but, at least, I am in good company with that boo-boo. Charles Sanford Terry, the Philipp Spitta of his generation, made the same mistake!

And, I confess, I have fantasized about walking into an antique store or consignment shoppe somewhere and spotting Bach in official regalia, gathering dust in his ornate gilt frame, waiting patiently to be identified and rescued by a sentimental and perhaps certifiable "crazy" like me.

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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 03:51