Bach a swarthoid?

Compare pigmentation: Wilkinson's reconstruction (L) and Haussmann's 1748 portrait (R).

Working with a cast of the composer's skull on loan from the Bach Museum in Eisenach, Scottish anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson has created a 3-D representation of the face of a man who died in 1750 at the age of 65. . . .

"We carried out a laser scan of the skull which allowed us to recreate the musculature and skin of the face on our computer system," she told reporters. "This is really the most complete face that can be built from the available reliable information." . . .

Bach's protruding under bite and the slight asymmetry of his face are evident in Wilkinson's image. Yet the technique is not 100 percent accurate. Bones don't reveal how thick the fat layers were on Bach's visage, how deep his wrinkles ran and what color his eyes were. . . .

She was forced to rely largely on Haussmann's portrait, combining art with science. The painting has been said to bear a canny resemblance to other portraits by Haussmann, reported the daily Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, which casts some doubt on its accuracy.

Wilkinson's rendering may be as close as science can get to knowing what Bach looked like, but minor details -- signs of age, his expressions, the hue of his skin -- remain shrouded in mystery.

"As far as we can ascertain, this is how Bach would have looked," Wilkinson said.

Oh, OK. The Haussmann portrait is reliable enough when Wilkinson needs soft-tissue detail, but Bach's pigmentation is a complete unknown--and, just to be safe, better give him brown skin, brown eyes, and black eyebrows. It's the scientific thing to do--after all, modal pigmentation in Thuringia is extremely swarthy, isn't it?

(Incidentally, the skull itself was authenticated based on its resemblance to the Haussmann portrait. If we're going to throw out the portrait evidence, there's no basis for positively identifying the skull Wilkinson's reconstruction is based on as Bach's.)

In reality, the evidence indicates Bach had a fair to medium complexion, brown to blond eyebrows, and predominantly blue eyes. Bach's skull (described as "massive") is clearly northern European in type:

For more information on Bach's appearance, see Teri Noel Towe's comprehensive Face of Bach site, which includes information on the recovery and authentication of Bach's skull.


Anonymous said...

Why don't you email her your blog entry? I'd be curious to see if she even responds.

It would not surprise me in the least if she is an anti-white-racist considering many in the field are. Granted she is in forensic versus cultural anthro, though the point still stands.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the email address.

I emailed her earlier through a contact form on her website and have yet to hear back.

Anonymous said...

Any legitimate historian or anthropologist--and even those who may still carry a wistfullness for antebellum Germany--wouldn't wince at this rendering of J.S. Bach which is more than likely a probable likeness. Many germans of historical Germany--nobles, generals, composers, polymaths, etc.--had darker phenotypes than our contemporary conceptions we carry from our demonizations of Nazi Germany. Anyone who's just generally acquainted with portraits of the royal houses of Germany know can attest to this. Many extant examples of medieval German poetry use black hair as a poetic motif and sign of the German aristocracy. J.S. Bach most likely descends in part from western or southern german lineage which shows common affinities to celtic and mediterranean populations in Europe.

What irks the ingenuous reader and fan of J.S. Bach, like myself, is the possible undercurrent of racism in this post and its replies blow. Swarthoid? I hope you guys don't spend too much of your time in ethnological pseudoscience. Europe is an awful mess of people. Germany to Churchill during the wars considered its population--to a considerable degree-- a confederation of huns. What is a hun? Eastern Europe. What Daniel Defoe called his England the "mud of races" can be applied with as much fidelity to Germany and its legacy.

Anonymous said...


You are an idiot and coward. Read the post and follow the links. We don't have to speculate about Bach's pigmentation. It's clear from portraits and other evidence he had normal North/Central European skin and predominantly blue eyes. There's absolutely no basis for depicting Bach with brown eyes and orange-brown skin, unless you believe colored contact lenses and self-tanner were in common use in 18th-century Europe.

A fairly large minority of Germans have dark eyes, and a small minority have dark skin; the combination of dark skin and brown eyes is not typical pigmentation in any part of Germany. Even if we had no information about Bach's pigmentation, it would make little sense to depict him in such a manner.

Since we have evidence Bach was not thus pigmented, it is clear Wilkinson had a political motivation in choosing the coloration she did.

Many extant examples of medieval German poetry use black hair as a poetic motif and sign of the German aristocracy.

Then you should have no trouble citing some of these "many examples". Even if you could -- and you can't -- it would be utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand.

". . . characteristics of the beautiful woman as she appealed to the German authors of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. She must be of medium height and slender. Her hair must be fair, like gold; long, bright, and curdly; a man's must only reach to his shoulders. Dark hair is seldom mentioned and was not admired."

Havelock Ellis, Sexual Selection in Man, p. 147

Anonymous said...

Looks like a healthy tan to me. Perhaps she imagined the 'levity and largesse' of such a composer like Bach lent to him such habit under the sun. It isn't exactly intuitively unreasonable that he had looked like that on some days. As for his portraits, his eyes were brown or grey more likely than blue.

I'd agree that there is a slant of defensive prejudice concerning this post and some of its replies.

Anonymous said...

Havelock Ellis? I wouldn't quote an old fig like him.

Anonymous said...

How unfortunate we had to wait for Wilkinson's imagination, rather than history, to tell us about all the time J.S. Bach spent shirtless on the beach.

As for his portraits, his eyes were brown or grey more likely than blue.


Anonymous said...

The only portrait that may show blue/grey eyes is the Volbach portrait (which is disputed like all).

The famous Haussmann portrait and the equally as famous Rentsch portrait (both disputed as well) show him with brown eyes. As do many more. For whatever reason the author of this post has chosen to brighten the contrast of the Haussmann which can be seen in its original condition on Bach's wiki page.


In addition, all of J.S. Bach's children had brown eyes and dark hair.

Anonymous said...

In all seriousness I wouldn't cite the musings of an eccentric and fringe hobby writer like "Terri Noel Towe". For any like myself who have come upon this silly debate by browsing J.S. Bach on the internet, just check out Noel Towe's homepage.

I did try to run my reason through his analysis of the face of Bach, but it isn't exactly clear how he comes to the conclusion of "predominantly blue eyes". I have blue eyes myself, and though I couldn't care less what color eyes Bach had himself, his conclusion is murky considering the majority of the portraits he has cited show Bach with marked brown eyes.

The Haussmann portrait, perhaps the most well-known and authenticated portrait, show his eyes to be nut-brown.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

For too-stupid-to-read "Anonymous":

Perhaps the best succinct explanation of the physiognomical factors that traditionally have had to be considered in the authentication process for a portrait alleged to be one of Johann Sebastian Bach is Gerhard Herz's summary in his Musical Quarterly review of Besseler's Fünf Echte Bildnisse:

"In the absence of historical documents and authenticated signatures, Besseler attempts his identification from anatomical and physiological traits. He reasons that in addition to such well known characteristics as Bach's protruding lower jaw or his double chin at least one other such sufficiently unusual peculiarity that distinguishes the composer's physiognomy ought to be found. In his search Besseler found..., along with the common predominantly blue color of the eyes, an unusual asymmetry of the eyes the nature of which he documents ably with the help of a scientifically usable copy of Bach's skull.

According to every expert I'm aware of, portraits depict Bach with predominantly blue or blue-grey eyes. Search Google Books and Google Scholar and stop wasting my time.

Anonymous said...

Haussmann portrait at higher resolution

Anonymous said...

Certainly weren't blue as I said. Brown or Grey, and Grey they seem to be. Thanks for the higher resolution pic of the Haussmann-which is the only authenticated portrait. I'd recommend reviewing a graduated color chart to see if you can distinguish between certain colors.

And about the tan, what's wrong with it? Looks good to me. Wish I could sport one myself, but I tend to burn in the sun.

Anonymous said...

The eyes appear light or light-mixed in the Haussmann portrait. I wouldn't try to be more precise than that with only digitized versions of unknown color accuracy to go on, especially considering that according to every expert I'm aware of, portraits depict Bach with predominantly blue or blue-grey eyes. "Blue" vs. "grey" is entirely irrelevant here: the issue is that Wilkinson has no justification for depicting Bach with brown eyes -- or a sun tan, whether she (you?) thinks it "looks good" or not.

Anonymous said...

Musical Quarterly, 1943; XXIX: 225 - 241.

Only one step remains to establish the authenticity of the
portrait. How does the outer appearance of the thirty-eight-yearold
Bach here depicted compare with that in his known authentic
portraits as an older man? There are but two principal types of
Bach likenesses among the recognized portraits—the "Haussmann
Type" and the 'Teters-Kiitner Type . The former is headed by
the original oil painting of 1746, which was copied by J. M. David
and several other artists. The "Peters-Kutner Type" is represented
by the Bach portrait of the Peters Music Library, Kiitner's
engraving of 1774, and copies made after them.

Both types show clearly the same grey-brown eyes, strongly
arched, blond eye-brows, and a mighty, broad, somewhat slanting
forehead. They differ, however, in the shape of the nose,
which is less hooked in the Haussmann type.

Anonymous said...

G HERZ - The Musical Quarterly, 1957 - Oxford Univ Press
In addition to questioning the quality of Huassmann's portraits, Besseler makes the following two points which detract in his opinion from the trustworthiness of H 48. The color of the eyes, grey-green on the restored version of H 46, is changed to a dark brown on H 48, which contradicts the blue-grey of the other Bach portraits he authenticated.

Considering that paintings will tend to darken with age and the accumulation of grime, I'm inclined to believe the lighter readings. Moreover, "grey-brown" (light-mixed) doesn't justify the just-plain-brown eyes in Wilkinson's "reconstruction" -- much less the brown skin or black eyebrows.

Anonymous said...

Herz rejected Besseler's criticism of H 48 which shows Bach with brown eyes.

If H 48 should be the copy once owned and treasured by Philipp Emanuel, which Besseler concedes to be more likely than not, then we must admit that, in spite of certain "corrections" deplored by Besseler, a good likeness is presented here. In fact it seemed so good to Philipp Emanuel that he willingly exchanged the small pastel, the least contestable picture among Besseler's "five genuine portraits," for a portrait of Johann Ludwig Bach, his Meiningen relative, whose picture his collection still lacked. Had
Philipp Emanuel felt that H 48 did not represent a true likeness of his father, how could he have parted with a superior Vkmena even if it was a small pastel? Nothing speaks more convincingly for H 48 (HI. F) than the fact that Philipp Emanuel found the pastel picture (HL D) expendable.

Anonymous said...

That reasoning is not at all convincing, nor does it say anything about the eye color, which Haussmann definitely fucked up in at least one or the other painting. Considering that every other portrait shows Bach with light or light-mixed eyes, the most parsimonious explanation is that H 48 is in error. One can think of any number of reasons C.P.E. might have kept a large portrait by a prominent artist, even with errors, while exchanging a small pastel by his cousin.

This is getting old. I will grant that reasonable people can disagree on the eye color, though I don't think "brown" falls into reasonable disagreement. Perhaps Wilkinson could have made that choice without intent to deceive, but it's interesting how every aspect of pigmentation appears to have been systematically darkened in the reconstruction. If you are Wilkinson, it's a bit late now to be starting your background research. You should have been able to justify each decision before releasing the "reconstruction".

And still no reasonable explanation for the dark "sun tan" on the 18th-century, central European composer.

Anonymous said...

This website is a bit of a laugh. Whoever is writing these articles ought have something better to do.

Anonymous said...

If I may add my two bits,

The rendering of Wilkinson's does not show decidedly brown eyes. In fact they show dark grey eyes. But that point is very much negligible.

As someone who was once actually involved in historical portrait appraisals, J.S. Bach's eyes are more commonly depicted as brown or a dim grey than any pair of baby blues.

Gosh, if you're trying shore up any of your bedside racialist theories, I recommend not poking much further about concerning composers in Germany--namely Mozart and Beethoven. As one reply above said quite soundly, Germany was quite a "mud of races".

Anonymous said...


These are some of the least convincing sockpuppets I've ever seen.

That you seem to take this all so personally lends to my impression you are Wilkinson herself. Don't bother trying to create yet more personae to back yourself up -- you clearly suck at it.

My "racialist theories" don't stand on any particular individual having a particular eye color, but I'll take Besseler's opinion over that of a poorly-constructed internet sockpuppet any day.

Anonymous said...

I hope that was her. But more so, I hope you have a life outside of this cute little forum of evolutionist pseudo-science you have here.

I was directed here by a link in an email from a friend who thought it was a good laugh to share (Bach a Swarthoid?). I sure got mine. And so did many more.

Get out of your basement and get some air.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

1. A member of a highly-pigmented subrace or ethnic group; most typically a dark Caucasoid (e.g., a Southern European or Middle Easterner, as opposed to a Northern European).
2. Someone who physically resembles def. 1.

2001-2003(?); SWARTH(Y) + -OID
Probably coined by someone on Skadi (or its predecessor) or the old SNPA list.

It's an amusing term, or maybe you had to be there.

Anonymous said...

"As one reply above said quite soundly, Germany was quite a "mud of races"."

A statement not backed up by any type of genetic or anthropological evidence.

The level of imbecility coming out of academia is quite amusing.

Thought I'd throw in the old "Beethoven was Black" link for fun:

Anonymous said...

{"As one reply above said quite soundly, Germany was quite a "mud of races"."

A statement not backed up by any type of genetic or anthropological evidence.}

It would be helpful for yourself to read this "citation of a citation" before you remark on it, which is the phrase "mud of races". It was a remark made by Daniel Defoe in his castigation of the Stuarts. All "Englishmen" for cetrtain, but as certainly, of divers origins. Here's an apt quote from W.S. Churchill:

"[I am] horribly entangled with the Ancient Britons, the Romans, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, all of whom I thought I had escaped for ever when I left school!" 1938, 20 August (OB, CV5/3, 1123.)
--quoted from "Churchill by Himself", Richard Langworth

Please do not share your broad, common, and juvenille schema of the word "race".

Anonymous said...

"It would be helpful for yourself to read this "citation of a citation" before you remark on it"

I already read it, thanks.

Implying that either Englishmen or Germans are a mixture of non-Euroepan races does not match up to the facts, which is what was intended by the two commenters who posted.

"Please do not share your broad, common, and juvenille schema of the word "race". "

You have already shared your infantile Marxist conceptualization of it, so why can I not indulge the readership here in a dose of reality?

I have science and anthropology on my side. Who do you have on yours? Boas and Marx?

Anonymous said...


If you read the post I used a quote from Churchill whom in which stresses the very fact of race. Be careful in your declamation because you've already sloughed by labelling my words as marxist (which I am the farthest from being--would knock a 'brew if I could). What's unfortunate, and of which may just be that of what you're uninformed of--which in itself isn't wrong--is that "race" is awfully more complex than it seems you know it as. As perhaps introduction, take this quote from Churchill, hit the book, and only then can we continue from this thread apportioned equably in armament and having casus belli.

Anonymous said...

To grab a finer thread of your quibble,

The "commenters" both used the phrase "mud of races" to remind specifically that both Germany and Britain were always composite nations nominally until the modern era. Not to treat you to tedium in discussing in this post, both geographical entities of Germany and Britain have anthropological evidence to indicate of "southern influences". It isn't exactly uncommon in certain areas of both "geographical entities" to find a man of a complexion not to dissimilar to the one depicted in the Wilkinson rendering. Although it certainly isn't exactly typical, it certainly isn't foreign either.

Anonymous said...

Certainly not the only influence, but one more modern and certainly of name, the Roman Empire at it furthest perimeters impressed upon the entire continent of Europe and Britain its seed, to term vulgar if I may. Of which W.S. Churchill testifies to in vexation nearly amillenium after they had originally reached Britian's soil.

Anonymous said...

{Implying that either Englishmen or Germans are a mixture of non-Euroepan races does not match up to the facts, which is what was intended by the two commenters who posted}

No, the argument is wholly confined to Europe itself and all of its peculiar populations. Had Bach sprung from France like Debussy, this argument would be none.

Anonymous said...

He looks European--what is all this crap argument about?

Yes he may be tanned a little dark, but I wouldn't imagine that strange if I had met him. Many europeans are a tan color and or have the capacity to tan.

JamesSteal said...

LOL @ this render. It's something Dienekes would probably have come up with during a heavy night of drinking. Next up: "George Washington was a Swarthoid."

rei said...

I'll just note that this blogger deliberately washed out the portrait to make it look paler than it actually is. Just take a look at the photo on Wikipedia.

I don't know anything about how Bach ought to have looked, but seriously, you talk about disingenuous science, and this is how you demonstrate honesty?


Anonymous said...

Quite comical to go back and read these older musings in the ancient era before adna, especially the one cited in the OP.
"The hue of his skin remain shrouded in mystery"
Modern phenotypes were already fixed loooong before Bach. To be fair though, this particular tone isn't unknown to Europeans, especially those from the south who spend alot of time in the sun, but given what we know of Bach it's just asinine.