The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies,
San José State University
Where is Beethoven's smile? In most Beethoven's portraits, he usually appears somber or, as Charlie Brown calls the expression in one Peanuts strip, "very scowlly."
That's because almost all of the portraits created after the composer's death have been based on this life mask of 1812. When it was made, Beethoven had to lie perfectly still while the original plaster mask was drying and was told not to smile since it's not possible to hold a smile without moving. According to the archivist and librarian C. F. Pohl, Beethoven, "overcome by the discomfort of the whole procedure, violently cut short the same by hurling the plaster mask as far away from him and fleeing hastily from the hands of the disconsolate artist. Likewise correct is the account of how the artist gathered up and fitted together the individual pieces, which luckily had already hardened into a firmly crusted mass."
In this copy of the mask, you can still see the seam marks from forcing together the broken pieces. Most copies have been cleaned up.