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Joseph Karl Stieler had been a very popular portraitist during the first half of the 19th century. It was him, who painted the portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven, which today is supposedly the most famous one, and which was being reproduced and copied again and again since its creation in the spring of 1820. Stieler's depiction shaped the perception developed by the broad public during the 19th and 20th century regarding the personality and the physical appearance of Beethoven. In the eyes of the ensuing ages, the painter also captured the creative genius of the composer in his idealistic portrait.
The painting was created on commission of the married couple Franz and Antonie Brentano, who had been friends of Beethoven since around 1810. Beethoven's conversation books give rather detailed information on the origins of the painting. The composer was sitting for the painter four times - a very unusual high number of sittings, since Beethoven is said to have been unable to sit still.
Stieler's portrait of Beethoven distinguishes itself above all through two novel elements. First of all - in contrast to all other contemporary paintings - it shows the composer while he is performing his art. Beethoven is holding a pen and seems to be working on the Credo of his "Missa solemnis". The face of the manuscript he is holding says: "Missa solemnis / From D # (# stands for Major)"; on the page facing the composer, the word "Credo" can be recognized. Further on, Stieler shows the view to a forest landscape in the background and by doing this, he - for the first time - combines a portrait of Beethoven with romantic motives of the nature. Beethoven's well-known love of nature and his famous "Sinfonia pastoral" op.68 with its haunting musical description of nature, provided him the biographical clues for such a depiction. Both motifs - "Beethoven composing" and "Beethoven in the nature" - became very popular during the further course of the 19th and 20th century, and until today, fine artists again and again were depicting those motifs.(S.B.)
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