Painting for a Requiem: Mihály Munkácsy's the last moments of Mozart (1885)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Early Music, 2011, 39 (1)
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The Hungarian artist Mihály Munkácsy's oil painting The last moments of Mozart (1885) is just one of several 'death-bed' visual reconstructions of the composer from the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mozart's early death, and its connection to the unfinished Requiem, fascinated Romantic writers, biographers, music historians and several painters as well. Within this theme in Mozart's posthumous reception, Munkácsy's painting is one of the most dramatic images of the composer, and it stands as a testament to deeply rooted beliefs regarding Mozart's genius and creative destiny. The last moments of Mozart is representative of the romantic 'Dionysian' construction of Mozart that rose up against the prevailing classicizing or 'Apollonian' vision of the composer. While Munkácsy's large-scale canvas belongs to the sub-genre of Mozart deathbed iconography, it steers well away from the usual sentimentalized visual accounts that show the composer in the grip of emotional despair. Instead, the artist shows Mozart in the throes of a deeply internalized creative vision, synthesizing his life and work - death and the Requiem - in a visual transfiguration that elevates Mozart's last moments to something beyond the earthly. The last moments of Mozart, and other similarly 'kitsch' and neglected paintings of Mozart, may help us reflect upon the role of images in our own inherited conceptions of the composer. © The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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