Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What Did J. S. Bach Look Like?

I find it amazing to fathom that in the time before cameras, we have to rely on old oil paintings and dusty drawings to trust what a person from another era actually looked like.

We trust that George Washington looked like he does on the dollar because he sat for a lot of paintings. We have a good guess as to what kings, queens and people of importance looked like because, well, they could afford to sit for a painting.

But the further in the past you go, the less clear it becomes. There is that classic debate of was Jesus really a brown haired, good looking dude. Could you imagine a blonde Jesus? Or a black/Arab Jesus? But who the hell knows? No one painted him while he was still alive, right? He never sat for an artist.

Which brings me to this recent CNN story about Johann Sebastian Bach. Seems that he only sat for one painter in his whole life. Hard to believe but apparently true.

The story says, Bach's appearance has long been surrounded by mystery. Images of the prolific composer are plentiful -- the Bach House alone has 140 likenesses -- but he is only known to have sat for one portrait, museum director Joerg Hansen said.

But due to the fact that someone made a copper replica of his skull (what?), scientists were able to make a good guess as to what he looked like.

I think I saw this guy on a bus one time, actually.

14 comments:

Sue said...

Now you've got my attention, isorski. Bach is to me what Kiss is to you. I've got a 12 x 14 by my piano that looks like Bach to me. And a great bobble-head Bach that moves when I play. Incidently, we don't need to know whether Jesus was a cool-looking dude. Just that he was a cool dude.

Guitarman5150 said...

I think it would be far more likely to know what Washington, Bach or Beethoven looks like than to know what Jesus looks like, he is a lot further back in history than the others. It would be intresting to here what others think about this. You have brought up an intresting subject.

Further on up the road said...

Bit like photoshop for celebs these days....

Bach - darn just missed the Brandenberg concertos of my list of stuff you wouldn't think I listen to on my blog. Never mind

Sue said...

further on down - try Bach's Goldberg Variations played on piano (Glenn Gould )

Don Capone said...

According to the Discovery Channel, this is what Jesus looked like:

http://www.stephan-selle.de/Buchgarten/Conspiracy/Gnosis/Das_Konzil/Nicea_1/jesus2.png

Sue said...

what He looked like is far less important than what he was like

VoxMoose said...

Certainly looks German. I think that Bach face may be one of the characters on Lost...

As for Jesus, what he looked like may be a moot point. Although it is possible he was an actual person, the historical record is pretty darn weak on this issue (much weaker than one might expect). For example, even biblical scholars regard the famous passages in Josephus to be questionable.

VoxMoose said...

Here's Tom Friendly, that Lost character I mentioned. There's some resemblance to the reconstructed Bach picture....

Sue said...

Jesus was an actual person.

Sue said...

what is Josephus

VoxMoose said...

Josephus is a 1st century historian who wrote a lot about Jewish and Roman history at that time. I know it sounds strange, but outside the Bible, there are almost nothing about Jesus mentioned in historical documents of that era. However, there is one controversial paragraph in a work by Josephus which does mention Jesus, but many Christian theologians and biblical scholars doubt the authenticity of that particular passage for a variety of reasons.

Although it sounds silly, as it turns out, it isn't always all that simple to show which historical people actually existed and which were inventions. For example, there are many legitimate scholars who doubt Socrates existed (he may have been a character invented by Plato!). Also, while Shakespeare certainly existed, it isn't clear exactly who he was or if his biographical information as we know it is remotely accurate.

In contrast, Bach as a person is very well documented from many independent sources (as well as his own amazing work).

My hunch is that Jesus probably did exist as a person. But the historical evidence isn't as strong as many believe.

Sue said...

voxmoose - I'm glad that there was a Bach and a Shakespeare. I know they existed. As for Jesus - hey, hey! I'm a believer. Not a trace of doubt in my mind...

Isorski said...

Sue and Voxmoose, thanks for playing nice in the sandbox.

Me, I am still trying to figure out if I am the only human on the planet and the rest of you are cyborgs!

Sue said...

I'll drop the subject(for now)
if he will.