In search of Paganini

Paganini by Ingres

After reading a fascinating piece on Paganini at Naturetails, I found myself looking at the (many) images of him that have come down to us. And then I keep coming back to an indelible image from childhood, when I watched Stewart Granger in The Magic Bow.

Stewart Granger – a plausible Paganini

With Paganini and many other heroes, one wonders what they really looked like, given the absence of photographs (though in Paganini’s case, Fiorini went so far as to fake a Daguerrotype, such was the violinist’s enduring appeal in the popular imagination).

Fiorini’s Daguerrotype – Photoshop fakery avant la lettre.

I’d probably trust Ingres – I’m pretty sure his drawing is not what many might take it to be, an overidealized portrayal. But who knows. In general, the playbills and posters depict a tousled madman, with Coleridgean “flashing eyes and floating hair”. This is perhaps what most of us call to mind when thinking of Paganini.

It is endlessly fascinating how public figures eventually end up becoming, in art or film, what the public needs them to be – or what people think the public needs them to be. Christ the white Anglo-Saxon RE instructor. Mozart the stout, complacent endorser of Viennese biscuits.

The Mozart often seen on biscuit tins, paragon of bourgeois propriety.
Jesus in Resurrection, the sequel to the Gibson blockbuster.

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