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JS Bach

Pictures of Johann Sebastian Bach

What Bach looked like is hard to tell. Few authentic portraits of him have been preserved, and none of them is by an outstanding painter. The constitution of the Musical Society stated that each member had to furnish a portrait as well as a specimen of his composition in order to be admitted. Bach's portrait was painted in 1746 by Elias Gottlieb Haussmann. He wrote for the society the Canonic Variations on Von Himmel hoch, as well as a single canon, which was separately distributed to the members. In the portrait, he holds this canon in his right hand. The portrait has been painted over, cleaned, and "restored," so that we do not know exactly what its original appearance really was, but it is the only one whose authenticity cannot be questioned. The same Haussmann painted Bach the year he came to Leipzig (1723): this earlier portrait was later owned by Philipp Emanuel. A portrait in pastel, which Philipp Emanuel considered very good, has disappeared. It may have been used, however, in addition to Haussmann's portrait of 1746, by S.G. Kutner, who, after Bach's death, made the first engraved portrait of him. Philipp Emanuel pronounced Kutner's engraving a fairly good likeness. All other portraits of Bach were also made after his death. The fact that in all the portraits Bach is wearing the wig customary in his period (did it cover a bald head?) is doubtless partly responsible for a certain neutral, official, impersonal air they have, though the 1723 likeness is more personal than the others. Yet by romantic standards, he seems to look more like a magistrate than like a musician.