The J. Paul Getty Museum

Bust of Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847)

Object Details


Bust of Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847)


Ernst Friedrich August Rietschel (German, 1804 - 1861)




Germany (Place Created)





Object Number:



59.7 × 39.4 × 25.4 cm (23 1/2 × 15 1/2 × 10 in.)

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Object Description

Felix Mendelssohn, one of Germany's most gifted composers, died tragically at the age of thirty-eight. A year later, Ernst Friedrich August Rietschel made this memorial bust for the Mendelssohn family. In imitation of ancient busts, Rietschel represented the sitter with bare shoulders, using an abrupt termination that cuts the shoulders in half and supporting the bust on a geometrical base similar to the capital of an Ionic column with a cartouche below. To leaven the formality of the bust's geometry, the artist carefully rendered the naturalistic portrait elements--Mendelssohn's full, sensuous lips, the soft, deep-set eyes, the furrowed forehead, and curly crop of hair--to show Mendelssohn as his family and friends knew him. The marble bust conveys not only the composer's visual likeness but also his character: the high forehead suggests the composer's intellect, while the distant, penetrating gaze in his eyes speaks of his artistic vision. This evocative quality derives from the idea of an artist as a divinely inspired genius, a very popular Romantic concept. Displayed in the family home, the bust commemorated Mendelssohn's contribution to the world of music and was a personal memento of the man for those who were intimate with him.

- 1986

Samuel Nystad Oude Kunst B. V., sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986.


Oppermann, Andreas. Ernst Rietschel (Leipzig: 1863), p. 405.

"Acquisitions/1986." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 15 (1987), p. 220, no. 123.

Spitzer, Gerd. "Zum Porträtschaffen des Bildhauers Ernst Rietschel (1804-1861)." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 16 (1988), pp. 110-18.

Bloch, Peter et al. Etnos und Pathos, die Berliner Bildhauerschule 1786-1914 (Berlin: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 1990), pp. 241-42, under no. 200, ill.

Fusco, Peter. Summary Catalogue of European Sculpture in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 42, ill.