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The Verona Portrait

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, possibly by Giambettino Cignaroli, or Saverio dalla Rosa, or both in collaboration. Painted at Verona on 6-7 January 1770, possibly with later additions. Oil on canvas, 71 x 58 cm (exclusive of frame); privately owned.*

The origin and execution of this portrait is partly described by Leopold Mozart in a letter to his wife, written at Verona on 7 January 1770:

‘The receiver general of Venice, Signor Lugiati, had asked the cavalieri to obtain my permission for Wolfg. to have his portrait painted; this took place yesterday morning, and he was to have a second sitting today after church. We were also intended to dine there. Signor Lugiati went in person to see Herr Ragazzoni to ask him to leave us to him, and the latter had to agree to this, albeit most reluctantly, as Lugiati is very powerful in Venice. And so we were to go to Herr Lugiati’s house this morning after church and sit for the painter again before lunch. But then an even more powerful or greater man appeared, namely the Bishop of Verona, from the house of Giustiniani, who sent word through Herr Locatelli that he not only wanted us to call on him after church but also to have lunch with him. But when he heard that Wolfg.’s portrait was currently being painted and that we wanted to leave, he agreed to our having lunch with Herr Lugiati but still kept us until after 1 o’clock. The painter then got on with Wolfg.’s portrait and it wasn’t until 3 o’clock that we sat down to eat.’

Barely two days later, an account of Mozart’s Verona concert on 5 January, dated 9 January and published in the Gazzetta di Mantova for 12 January, also mentions the portrait, and Lugiati’s commissioning of it: ‘. . . on this and other occasions, subject to the most arduous trials, he overcame them all with an inexpressible skill, and thus to universal admiration, especially among music lovers; among them were the Signori Lugiati who, after enjoying and allowing others to enjoy yet finer proofs of this youth’s ability, in the end wished to have him painted from life for a lasting memorial.’footnote1 And Lugiati himself mentions it in a letter to Mozart’s mother of 22 April that year: ‘I was certainly among his admirers . . . and I conceived such a regard for him that I had him painted from life with the inscription copied on the end of the cantata – which he will be pleased to read. This charming likeness of him is my solace, and serves moreover as incitement to return to his music now and again.’footnote2

Lugiati’s letter suggests that the portrait remained with him – it served as his ‘solace’ and ‘incitement’, hence it was something he continued physically to own. But what happened to it for several decades after that is unknown. According to Bauer-Deutsch it is among the portraits referred to by Constanze Mozart in a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel of 30 January 1799: ‘I am aware of the existence of two portraits of my late husband done en face. . .’.footnote3 The reference, however, is far from clear. To suggest that it unequivocally refers to the Verona portrait assumes not only that Constanze knew it, but also that she authoritatively knew that only two portraits of the composer had been done en face. Yet this is demonstrably not the case: in addition to the Verona portrait, both the oil painting of Mozart as a child and the portrait of Mozart as a Knight of the Golden Spur are en face; and the family portrait is very nearly en face.footnote4 Similarly, there is no evidence that Constanze knew the Verona portrait and it is more likely that she refers only to two pictures known to her. Exactly which pictures she meant remains uncertain.

The very fact that the picture remained unknown for nearly 80 years also speaks against Constanze’s knowledge of it: by 1856, when the Verona portrait resurfaced, all other Mozart portraits owned by his widow or family had been made public, including, for example, the unfinished Lange portrait,footnote5 which had been kept under wraps for more than 30 years.footnote6 The Verona portrait was discovered by Leopold von Sonnleithner, who in November 1856 acquired it privately from its Veronese owner and transported it to Vienna. It then passed to his daughter Therese Kammerlacher, later a certain Dr Karl Kuppelwiser and – sometime after 1940 – to the pianist Alfred Cortot.footnote7

Although the history of the Verona portrait’s commissioning and some details of its execution are relatively clear, the identity of the artist remains uncertain. It was traditionally thought to have been executed by Giambettino Cignaroli (1706-1770), the most important painter in eighteenth-century Verona,footnote8 chiefly because he is the only painter mentioned in Leopold’s travel notes from Verona: ‘Sgr: Cignarolli Pittore’.footnote9 Rafaello Brenzoni, however, suggested it may have been executed by Cignaroli’s nephew Saverio Dalla Rosa (1745-1821), not only for stylistic reasons, but also because the detailed worklist of Cignaroli paintings included in Ippolito Bevilacqua’s Memorie della vita di Giambettino Cignaroli, which specifically included 5 pictures owned by Lugiati, does not mention it.footnote10

It is the musical content of the portrait, however, that has attracted the most attention. The instrument shown in the picture is a single manual keyboard by Giovanni Celestini (fl 1587-1610), a Venetian keyboard builder of the sixteenth century (the inscription reads ‘Joannis Celestini Veneti MDLXIII’); presumably it was among the instruments at the Lugiati household, where the sittings on 6 and 7 January took place.footnote11 But it is probably not the instrument for which the music on the music stand was written: Daniel Heartz, for one, notes that the instrument’s range seems to extend only to a high C (at least as it is depicted in the portrait), whereas the Molto Allegro extends to C-sharp and D.footnote12 And it is unclear who the composer of the work is, since the manuscript as shown includes no attribution. Surprisingly, perhaps, this was not an issue for early scholars: Sonnleither and Vogel note only the presence of a piece of music on the stand, without considering who may have composed it, while Wurzbach does not mention it at all; Jahn says only the the piece ‘must have possessed some peculiar interest for the Veronese.’footnote13 But it was an issue for Alfred Einstein, who was the first to claim the work for Mozart, including it in his 1937 revision of the Köchel catalogue as K72a. According to Einstein, it was inconceivable that a piece depicted on a Mozart portrait could be by anyone other than the sitter himself.

Einstein’s attribution of the Molto Allegro was taken over by Deutschfootnote14 but not by later scholars, at least not universally. Daniel Heartz was the first to suggest the work may not be by Mozart but by someone else, and in this he was largely followed by Wolfgang Plath, who edited the work for the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe.footnote15 According to Heartz and Plath, the style of the work depicted is atypical of the composer, including stylistic inconsistencies – notably a weak opening gesture in a quasi-trio sonata texture juxtaposed with galant style writing, and formal and modulatory procedures, among them a full close in the tonic at the end of the opening statement and transitions that lack continuity.footnote16 Heartz finds all of these characteristics in the works of Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785), and suggests that he may in fact be the composer of the Molto Allegro.

Yet stylistic issues alone cannot resolve the question of the work’s authorship. As Heartz also notes, the picture includes an ink pot with a quill, ‘the traditional sign that the sitter is a creative artist, not merely a performer’,footnote17 hence the reasonable prima facie assumption of Mozart’s authorship – otherwise a well-understood sign of creativity would be contradicted by a specific and concrete sign of a particular kind of creativity. And as Heartz also notes, Mozart himself claimed to be able to compose in any style, writing to his father on 7 February 1778: ‘As you know, I can . . . adopt or imitate any kind and any style of composition.’footnote18 In the case of the Molto Allegro, a stylistic determination is especially difficult. Mozart did not compose any similar works around this time, hence there are no works in his own style to which K72a can be compared.footnote19

Two features of the painting itself suggest a closer relationship between the Molto Allegro and Mozart. One is that the painter made sure to include a legible version of the entire piece even though the right hand side of the manuscript is cut off by the edge of the picture and the frame. In other works, where ‘in reality’ some of the music should be lost, in this case it has been carefully tailored to fit the visible space, with no loss of text.footnote20 This suggests that the work has some special meaning even beyond, perhaps, that of an homage to local music, as the inclusion of a work by Galuppi, which need not be complete, only recognizable, might suggest.

Verona portrait, detail*

More striking still is the appearance of the manuscript itself, which does not look much like other Italian music manuscripts of the time. The differences between the manuscript depicted on the stand and contemporaneous Italian music manuscripts are, chiefly, three: the inclusion and shape, in the Mozart portrait, of a brace linking the treble and bass staves; and the shape of the treble and bass clefs. It does, however, bear some striking similarities to Mozart’s own musical handwriting.

Baldassare Galuppi, 'Rendi mi il caro amico', Italian manuscript copy possibly owned by the Mozarts, c1770 (Salzburg, Museum Carolino Augusteum, Hs. 1854)*

Baldassare Galuppi, 'Un pensier mi dice al cuor', Italian manuscript copy possibly owned by the Mozarts, c1770 (Salzburg, Museum Carolino Augusteum, Hs. 1852)*

W. A. Mozart, Mitridate, authentic copy by an Italian copyist, Milan 1770-1771 (Lisbon, Biblioteca de Ajuda)*

Verona portrait, detail*

W. A. Mozart, Mitridate nr. 16, autograph score (string and vocal parts only), Italy 1770 (Paris, Bibliotheque nationale)*

It may be, then, that what is on the music stand is a Mozart autograph, which the painter faithfully copied. This would be consistent with the notion that the work is not merely a generalized sign of musical acquaintance or homage but represents an actual work that is particularly relevant to the sitter and his occupation and reputation as a composer. It similarly explains why no autograph for K72 survives: presumably such detailed work could not have been completed during Mozart’s two relatively brief sittings on 6 and 7 January and so the manuscript was left behind as an artist’s model. This would not have been the first time the Mozarts had left behind a musical autograph, or given it to a patron: in London, for example, Leopold presented the score of the motet ‘God is our Refuge’, K20, to the British Museum.footnote21

Even beyond the representation in the portrait of an inkpot and quill, to say nothing of the music manuscript itself, there are clues suggesting that the primary attribute of the sitter is composition rather than performance. Although he is seated at a keyboard, and has his hands on the keys, he appears to be posing, with his face turned to the spectator, not performing. And as Heartz notes, the chair on which he sits, with its prominent arms, is not conducive to performance. The inscription on the painting, by the Veronese poet and scholar Giuseppe Torelli (1721-1781), a great nephew of the composer Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709), specifically mentions ‘the art of music’ although this could refer to performance, composition or, more likely, both:

ANNO MDCCLXXfootnote22

Yet, finally, there is no unequivocal evidence that the piece depicted on the music stand is in fact by Mozart. Notwithstanding the apparent clues to its authorship – the most compelling of which ought to be the possibility that it may represent an autograph – Mozart himself sometimes wrote out pieces of music by other composers without signing their names to his manuscripts. Examples include the Psalm ‘De profundis clamavi’ K93 (K6 Anh. A22), by Georg Reutter, and the Missa super cantum gregorianum K44 (K6 73u), by Johann Stadlmayr, among others.footnote23 Accordingly, the unsigned Molto Allegro depicted in the Verona portrait could indeed be by another composer, irrespective of the origin of the manuscript upon which its reproduction is based.

Bitte benutzen Sie den folgenden Hinweis beim Zitieren dieser Webseite:
Eisen, Cliff et al. Mit Mozarts Worten, 'The Verona Portrait' <http://letters.mozartways.com>. Version 1.0, herausgegeben von HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.
Mit Mozarts Worten. Version 1.0, herausgegeben von HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.