This Rare Portrait of a Teenage Mozart at Work Is Heading to Auction in Paris—and It Could Fetch More Than $1 Million

The work features the 13-year-old prodigy sitting at an organ, wearing a wig.

Attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli, Portrait de Mozart (1770). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

It’s not unusual for child prodigies to be the subjects of portraits, as the recent controversial mural of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg in San Francisco illustrates. But whether those wunderkinds go on to the type of success that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did is another story. A rare portrait of a 13-year-old Mozart will go up for auction at Christie’s Paris on November 27th and is estimated to fetch between $882,000 and $1.2 million.

The provenance of the painting is quite well-documented. In 1770, Mozart was traveling around Italy giving organ concerts. After a particularly rousing show in Verona, the receiver-general of Venice, Pietro Lugiati—a member of a powerful Veronese family—basically kidnapped Mozart in order to have his portrait completed by Giambettino Cignaroli. As this part of the history isn’t as well recorded, the resulting work is merely attributed to the well-known Italian Rococo painter, but the portrait certainly looks to be done by the hands of a master: a fresh-faced Mozart poses as if he’s playing the organ, wearing a curled wig and a vibrant red frock.

The story of the painting is relayed in a letter from Mozart’s father and teacher Leopold to Mozart’s mother, Maria Anna, back in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg.

“We were invited to visit the home of a certain honest individual by the name of Ragazzoni,” Leopold writes, going on to say that Lugiati asked for permission to have Mozart’s portrait painted, before an upper-class Bishop stopped by, keeping the Mozarts captive. “When [the Bishop] heard that Wolfg.’s portrait was being painted and that we wanted to resume our journey, he agreed to our having lunch with Herr Luggiatti [sic] but still detained us until after 1 o’clock. The painter then got on with Wolfg.’s portrait, and it wasn’t until 3 o’clock that we sat down to eat.”

The work attributed to Cignaroli is said to be one of four known portraits of Mozart painted during his lifetime that remains in private hands. Fourteen life portraits of the composer are believed to exist in total. The Austrian composer died in 1791 at the age of 35.

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