Joseph Lange’s Mozart Portrait – article by Michael Lorenz



Joseph Lange‘s unfinished portrait of Mozart is one of the most popular and best known images of the composer. Its somber coloring and its unfinished state have made it a visual icon of Mozart in his Vienna years. Mozart’s life, being tragically cut short, is hauntingly paraphrased by the  incompleteness of the painting.

I have been studying Joseph Lange’s life and work for over ten years and I assume in all modesty that I have seen more of Lange’s paintings than anybody else. Lange’s Mozart portrait has been the object of my scrutiny for a long time and I have always been intrigued as to how its appearance and its state of preservation have changed during the last 60 years. Moreover I was always sceptic regarding its supposed “state of incompleteness”, which owing to the unusually straight edges of paint on Mozart’s body is at odds with many other unfinished paintings I know. Could it be that the painting was not unfinished, but represents an enlargement of an orignal small portrait which then was never completed? There is a model for this particular procedure. It turns out that this model is none other than Lange’s portrait of Constanze Mozart which today is on display in Glasgow. That this painting is an enlarged version of a small portrait (previously 18 x 13 cm, now 32,3 x 24,8 cm) has long been known and has been pointed out several times in the literature, most recently in the catalogue of the 1991 Mozart exhibition in Salzburg.

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