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ca. 1733 ca. 1741 1746 1747 1748 1750

The Search for the Portrait that Belonged to Kittel Pages at The Face Of Bach
The Queens College Lecture of March 21, 2001 - Page 3 - Enter the Weydenhammer Portrait Fragment


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 3

Enter the Weydenhammer Portrait Fragment


Little did I know.

Enter what I have come to call the Weydenhammer Portrait Fragment.

The Internet is indeed an amazing innovation.

On April 2, 2000, during the year in which the world marked the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, a lady who had seen my homepage on the Bach portraits e-mailed me:

Dear Mr. Towe,

If I had your address, I could supply you with yet another portrait of J. S. Bach, or, more precisely, a portrait fragment (alas just the head) slightly larger than life. It has been our family since the 1870's when our ancestors emigrated from the Leipzig area.

Of course, I was interested, and I immediately e-mailed her my business address. A few days later, just hours before I left for Washington, D. C., to attend the Biennial Meeting of the American Bach Society, the photos arrived at the offices of Ganz & Hollinger, the law firm at which I am "Of Counsel".

Sitting in the office of my long-time law partner, Jeri Hollinger, I slid the 4x6 prints out of the padded envelope that she had handed to me, and this is the first image that I saw:

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"Oh, my God!", I exclaimed softly. 

Jeri asked me what the matter was, and I simply showed her the photo. "That's a picture of Bach", she said.

And I replied:  "Yes, I know.  And I think I know which one."

The photographs were accompanied by a handwritten letter, dated April 3, 2000, which reads, in pertinent part:

"Dear Mr. Towe,

This fragment has been in the family since my mother's family came to this country. I had no idea that portraits of the great man were so scarce. My wish was that somehow the face could be reunited with the rest of the painting if that were extant -- and also to find out something more about it -- the artist?. The family tradition was that it was painted by an ancestor.

Anyway, I think the painting is wonderful and hope you will agree.

Looking forward to hearing from you."

Oh, yes! I did, and do, agree! The painting is wonderful!

I also realized that I might at last be at the end of a personal quest that at that time had lasted some 37 years, that a personal "Holy Grail" might at last have been found. I did not have the presence of mind to fetch Prof. Neumann's hefty tome from the shelves before heading to the Metroliner and the American Bach Society meeting, but I did have my copy of Christoph Wolff's superb new biography, Johann Sebastian Bach, The Learned Musician, with me. As many of you I am sure already know, the dustjacket for the book is illustrated with the upper portion of the 1748 Haussmann Portrait:

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I spent the trip down alternating between reading Christoph's masterful, perceptive, innovative, and elegantly written acount of Bach's life and comparing the 4x6 snapshot with the dust jacket detail from the 1748 Haussmann Portrait.

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That comparison only reinforced my initial reaction: The fragment is what remains of the portrait of Bach that belonged to Kittel. While at the American Bach Society meeting, I had a bit of fun pulling the snapshot out of my jacket pocket and asking my colleagues, "Does this man look like anybody we know?" Only one wrinkled up his nose and walked away in disgust when I explained what it was alleged to be. A couple of others asked what the provenance was, but no one seemed especially enthusiastic.

But I knew. And I was sure. I had not forgotten the words of Bernard Berenson, as relayed by Robert Koch, the distinguished art historian whose courses in Netherlandish Painting of the Renaissance and The Art of the Print I had taken at Princeton 30 years and more before: "The first ten seconds are worth the next ten years."

I know that face, and it is that same face, albeit younger and thinner. He may not look quite the way I had expected him to, but it is that same face.

My confidence was such that I asked the owners of the painting for permission to reproduce it in black and white and announce its existence in my autobiographical entry in the Class Book for my then forthcoming 30th Reunion at Princeton. They were very gracious and gave me the go-ahead, and, no matter what, copies of that volume are bound to rank among the more unusual bits of Bachiana!

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Those who know me well know that I am unabashedly, if selectively, superstitious, and that I put great stock in anniversaries. After I was reminded by Christoph Wolff's observation in Johann Sebastian Bach, The Learned Musician that Kittel was living with the Bachs as a boarding pupil when Bach died and that he was certainly among those who followed his casket to its interment in the Johanniskirchof on July 31, 1750, I asked the owners of the painting for permision to announce the existence of the painting, via the internet. They agreed, and on July 31, 2000, the website called The Face Of Bach came into being. There was a great deal of initial excitement and enthusiasm, and two distinguished magazines that I know of -- The American Organist and The Strad -- made mention of the announcement.

But, by that time, the exhilaration and the euphoria had worn off, and stark reality had usurped their places.

Based not only on my knowledge of the face of Bach but also on my familiarity with both the documentary evidence and the acknowledged authentic images, I was firmly convinced that the long lost portrait of Bach that had belonged to Kittel at long last had been found, but, obviously, I could not expect my colleagues and the world at large to "take it on faith". I still had to prove it to them and to the world.

I realized that I now had to codify my method. I now had to "formalize" the unwritten criteria that I had developed for my own use over the years, the procedures that I had come to follow after years of study and analysis.

For, you see, Bach's is not the only face that I have studied so intently.

I have had a lifelong interest in portraits, period. My fascination with portraiture dates to small childhood, and my interest perhaps was kindled by two portraits in oils that hung in the family apartment:

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The portrait on the left, of James Thornhill, is by Pompeo Batoni, and it now graces my dining room. The portrait on the right, of Barbara St. John Bletsoe, the second wife of the Fifth Earl of Coventry, is by Angelica Kauffmann, but it now hangs in the Art Museum at Princeton University, to which I gave it in 1998, as a memorial to my beloved Mother and Father, who made it all possible.

It was as a child of seven, going on eight, that I first learned that portraits were not necessarily accurate and that they did not necessarily depict the individuals that they were alleged to depict. I learned my first real lessons about the unreliability of portraiture from the ca. 1954 edition of Sir George Bellew's Pitkin book, The Kings and Queens of Britain, which was given to me during my first visit to London:

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Sir George Bellew was then the holder of the ancient and arcane position of Garter King of Arms, and, as such, was responsible for all things heraldic in Great Britain as well as the planning and organization of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

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I am sure that it will come as no surprise to anyone that Sir George was a stickler for both detail and accuracy, and the illustrations that he selected for the remarkable little book of sketches that he wrote of every monarch from King Egbert through Queen Elizabeth II reflect his high standards. The first inkling that I had that portraits of historical figures are often not what they seem came from a "sidebar" on page 6:

The delicate and diplomatic wording notwithstanding, the message was clear. We don't know what most of the British monarchs really looked like until 1399. And Sir George was very cautious and very diplomatic in selecting and in providing captions for the British monarchs who preceded King Richard II. Here are two examples:

In fact, Sir George's reluctance to foist inaccurate depictions of any of the British monarchs upon any unsuspecting and impressionable reader, like me, ultimately led to the omission of all such "speculative" portraits from a later edition of the book, which I bought when I visited London in 1966.

Of course, I am indebted to Sir George Bellew, and it is a pleasure to acknowledge him and to thank him for having planted those seeds of doubt in the psyche of an eager second grader. Unbeknownst to him and to me, he got me started on the right foot. Consciously or subconsciously, I always recalled his admonition and his words of caution, whether studying the stern and chiseled features of the diorite statue of Kha-ef-re, the builder of the Second Pyramid at Gizeh and the Sphinx, in the Musée des Antiquitées in Cairo, or the magnificent Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Galeria Doria-Pamphili in Rome.

It's quite a question, isn't it?

Just how do you determine if a portrait really depicts the person who it is said to depict, particularly when the person died long before the advent of photography?

When one is seeking to authenticate a hitherto unknown image alleged to depict a specific individual, particularly when that image does not have documented provenance, the fundamental issue, the question that takes precedent over all others, is:

Can the image be shown to be an accurate depiction of the facial features, as they are agreed to be, of the alleged subject of the image?

All other issues are secondary, really, until this question is addressed and answered as fully as is possible.

Please remember that an image that is fully documented and that has impeccable provenance can also be an image that is not an accurate depiction of the subject's facial features. To give a facetious example, a Crayola® crayon drawing that Chelsea Clinton made of her father while in nursery school might have perfect provenance, but the accuracy of her rendering of his facial features is almost surely going to be far less than perfect.

First of all, one must collate all of the acknowledged images of the subject and assess their accuracy, one by one, making a careful and detailed inventory of the distinctive characteristics to be found in each image, and, equally importantly, how those characteristics change with the passage of time. If there are any detailed written descriptions of the subject's facial features, these must also be taken into account. For example, if a written description indicates that the individual in question had a large mole on his left cheek, as Handel did, for instance, and it is not to be seen a painting or a drawing that is alleged to depict him, one has to address the question and determine if the absence of the mole can be explained in a way that does not threaten to undermine what otherwise seems to be an accurate depiction.

Establishing these standards is not necessarily an easy task.

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Please click on 1092-18A-0100v.jpg  Loading 35034 bytes to return to the Index Page at The Face Of Bach.

Please click on abdyjsb2.jpg to visit the Johann Sebastian Bach Index Page at Teri Noel Towe's Homepages.

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TheFaceOfBach@aol.com


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

The Face Of Bach
Remains Profoundly Grateful to
The Rainbow Flag Civic Center

For Providing the Cyberspace for The Face Of Bach
For the First Eight Years of Its Existence.
Thank you, Nathan P. Johansen!
The Face Of Bach
Now Is Profoundly Grateful to
The Bach Cantatas Website

For Providing The Face Of Bach
With a New Home.
Thank you, Aryeh Oron!


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ca. 1733 ca. 1741 1746 1747 1748 1750


 

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