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Kant’s Life
[… in Words]
[... in Images: IntroductionImage IndexAssessmentEarly ListsSummaryBibliography]

Introduction: Kant’s Body in Images

Schleuen engraving from Becker

“I saw my portrait on the front of the [Allgemeine deutsche] Bibliothek. It is an honor that disturbs me a little, for, as you know, I earnestly avoid all appearance of surreptitiously seeking eulogies or ostentatiously creating a stir. The portrait is a good engraving though not a good likeness. But it pleases me to see that this sort of gesture stems from the amiable partisanship of my former students.”

“Mein Bildnis habe vor der Bibliothek gesehen. Eine Ehre die mich ein wenig beunruhigt weil ich wie Sie wissen allen Schein erschlichener Lobsprüche und Zudringlichkeit um Aufsehen zu machen sehr meide. Es ist wohl gestochen obzwar nicht wohl getroffen. Indessen erfahre ich mit Vergnügen daß solches die Veranstaltung der liebenswürdigen Partheylichkeit meines ehemaligen Zuhörers ist.”

— Kant’s letter to Marcus Herz (near the end of 1773) [#79; AA 10:146]

Overview of the Images

Immanuel Kant (1768)
Becker, oil on canvas, 46 x 49 cm.

We have available to us 19 original images produced by artists who had at least seen Kant in person:

Of these, the many Vernet paintings, along with the Collin bas-relief, the Lowe, and the three silhouettes are relatively small A great many other images derive from these, with varying degrees of artistic license, while a few take such liberties with Kant’s appearance that they are best thought of as not derivative at all.

A few Latin terms and abbreviations: ad vivum (from life), del. et sc. / delineavit et sculpsit (drew and engraved), fecit (made), pinx. (painted), sculp or sculps. (engraved).

Four indices help sort the images: the left window includes indices arranged by chronology (first listing those images prepared by someone who at least had seen Kant, even if Kant might not have sat for the portrait, sculpture, or silhouette, with copies listed under these), the artist (listing each artist with their own works, as well as copies prepared by others), and the medium (grouped as painting, drawing, relief/sculpture, engraving). Clicking on the links in these indices should open a window with all the data collected on these images.

Finally, an Image Index with thumbnails of all the images discussed, sorted by the source image (when known), is available in the “Images” links in the header above).

Also available in the Image-links above is an Assessment page that collects together contemporary assessments of the iconography; an Early Lists page of the Kantian iconography, provided by Mortzfeld (1802), Wald (1804), Borowski (1804), and Schubert (1842); and a Summary that compares the lists prepared by Borowski [1804], Minden [1868], and Clasen 1924]; and a Bibliography of references to the iconography, which is separate from the website’s main bibliography.

Previous Studies

More systematic studies of Kant iconography were published by Minden [1868] and Clasen [1924], with the latter including plates of some of the images discussed. A table comparing the lists prepared by Borowski, Minden, and Clasen is available on the Summary page, and includes descriptive quotations from these works and thumbnails of the images discussed. A collection of images from the Museum Stadt Königsberg in Duisburg (although closed since 2016, with many or all of the materials moved to the Ostpreußischen Landesmuseum in Lüneburg) and reproduced in Grimoni/Will (2004) are available online courtesy of Andreas Vieth.

Minden discussed reliefs and sculptures, but did not include them in his list, which is limited to paintings/drawings and engravings, and here he distinguished between those images prepared from life (“original images”) of which he knew of seven, and the copies made from these (of which he listed twenty-six). It appears that Minden, who lived in Königsberg, had inspected only a few of the originals — Becker(b) and Hagemann(a) — as these are the only original images for which he offers dimensions, while he gives the dimensions of all the engravings that he lists.

Clasen’s list is not as thorough as Minden’s, although he also includes three-dimensional icons, and Kant’s death mask and skull, for a total of twenty-one images in his Verzeichnis, as well as the silhouette from Hippel's Nachlaß (on the title page), the sketch by Hagemann of Kant preparing mustard (p. 27), and two silhouettes from Stammbücher (p. 16). [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]. Digital images are from the copy at the Marburg UB.

Malter: An early catalog on the web of these images (and information regarding the iconography) come from Rudolf Malter’s collection at Mainz, and has been useful in preparing this page.