Closer to the Composer I


Closer to the Composer I
by Kristin Serafini
acrylic on canvas
10″ x 20″ plus frame

A few artists who actually knew Mozart did portraits of him. Aloysia’s husband, Joseph Lange, painted one of the most famous portraits of the great composer. Tellingly, it was left unfinished. Since then, plenty of artists who didn’t know Mozart personally have painted scenes from his life, or idealized portraits of what they imagined (or hoped) he looked like. It seems to me that this later category of work becomes more about the artist’s style than the subject.

When I started work on Letters to Mozart, I did not intend to become one of those Mozart characture painters. (In the book, I intentionally left the faces off of the characters to allow the readers to imagine their own relationships with the people in the story.) When I started thinking about doing “portraits” of Mozart myself, I wanted to approach the idea in a new way. The formal poses had been done…and most of them don’t tell us very much about his character or his music.

With this series, I kept most of the composer’s face out of the canvas, to focus the attention on the body language. I tried to use the mouth and hands to convey a mood or a feeling, which might perhaps have been typical of Mozart’s character. Closer to the Composer I shows the edge of a poster advertising Idomeneo: Re di Creta, the first opera Mozart wrote as an adult. This is the moment just before the composer walks on stage to conduct the opening performance. I wanted to capture that feeling of youthful anticipation…when you know you’ve got something brilliant up your sleeve, but you’re also a little nervous. So Mozart is biting his lip, but he’s also smiling a little bit.

The modern (almost abstract) composition and the narrow shape of the canvas put the viewer right up close to Mozart, but not on the same level. This contrasts with the detailed realism of the costume. (I studied 18th century portraits to see how the artists of the day painted them. When I was working on the tiny silver stitches on this jacket, I started to wonder which would take longer: to actually make the jacket out of fabric and thread, or to paint a picture of the embroidery…)

-Kristin Serafini