A New Portrait of Mozart?
Descendants of the Hagenauer family of Salzburg, friends of Mozart’s father, recently sold a group of items associated with the composer. Among them is a painting that may be an unknown portrait of Mozart. Cliff Eisen assesses the evidence.
Cliff Eisen, Tuesday, 24th November 2009
Only a very few images of Mozart are universally agreed to be authentic.1 Yet the acceptance of these portraits – as well as more recently discovered portraits purporting to be Mozart2 – is less the result of provenance or connoisseurship than the fact that they are shrines at which Mozart scholars and Mozart lovers uncritically worship. They are representations of how we would like Mozart to look – in short they satisfy our visual biographical fancy. This is true, above all, of the unfinished portrait by Joseph Lange (Fig. 8). The musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon described it as ‘the most intimate, most profound, of all the mature Mozart portraits – the only one, really, to catch the ambivalent nature of Mozart’s mercurial mind and to show the profoundly pessimistic side of his many-sided genius’, whereas the early 20th-century French Mozartean Théodore de Wyzewa remarked on its ‘fresh and delicate juvenile beauty’ – despite the fact that it is not even certain when it was painted.3 It seems hardly likely, however, that the traditional Mozart portraits are the only authentic ones. Mozart had many admirers and patrons, many of whom may have commissioned or requested portraits. What follows is an account of one such portrait and other artefacts that were probably owned by his family.
On 4 November 1763 Mozart’s father, Leopold, wrote to his Salzburg landlord and financier Johann Lorenz Hagenauer from Brussels, where Wolfgang (then aged seven) and his sister, Nannerl, were performing as part of a European tour. Leopold briefly described what he called his ‘Peruvian treasures and riches’: ‘Little Wolfgang has been given two magnificent swords, one from Count von Frankenberg, Archbishop of Malines, the other from General Count de Ferraris. My little girl has received Dutch lace from the archbishop, and from other courtiers cloaks, coats and so on. With snuffboxes and etuis and such junk we shall soon be able to rig out a stall.’4
This is the first, brief description of the horde of valuable objects that the family collected on its travels. By the time that the Mozarts returned to Salzburg, in 1766, they had with them, or had sent ahead, several large coffers full of gifts, memorabilia and items that they had purchased while on tour. They included gold pocket watches, rings and snuff boxes, earrings, necklaces, knives with golden blades and tooth picks, among other items.5
Almost all of these items were shipped, in the first instance, to Hagenauer, who in addition to partly financing the Mozart family’s journeys was also probably Leopold’s best friend. Given the close relationship between the Mozart and Hagenauer families, it is only to be expected, perhaps, that some items once owned by the Mozarts, or items that passed through their hands, might have ended up with the Hagenauers.6 It seems to be the case, for instance, that some of the valuable gifts that Leopold received on the tour were used to repay his debts to Hagenauer. And it is just as likely that Leopold, out of friendship, made the Hagenauers gifts. No doubt, as close friends, the families were keen to have mementoes of each other as well, such as keepsakes and portraits.
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