The Museum of Hoaxes
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September Morn, the painting that shocked the censor, 1913
Mule elected G.O.P. committeeman, 1938
The boy with the golden tooth, 1593
The Stone-Age Tasaday Hoax, 1971
Swiss peasants harvest spaghetti from trees, 1957
Jennifer Love Hewitt's Disappearing Breasts
Vilcabamba, the town of very old people, 1978
The Great Wall of China Hoax, 1899
The Berners Street Hoax, 1810
Prankster causes volcano to erupt, 1974
Photograph of Mozart’s Widow
Status: Probably a hoax
image Last week the London Times printed a photo that, so it claimed, was the only known photograph of Mozart's widow (Constanze), taken in 1840 at the home of Swiss composer Max Keller when she was 78 years old. (She's supposedly the woman on the far left.) However, the photo has generated controversy online, where a number of scholars have labeled it a hoax.

The Sounds & Fury blog cites Agnes Selby, author of a biography of Constanze Mozart, who writes that:
this is certainly not Constanze but someone's aunt. The whole story was concocted by Keller's grandson... There is absolutely no way she could have traveled to visit Maximillian Keller during the period when the photograph was taken. Contrary to the statements made in the newspaper, Constanze had no contact with Keller since 1826. There is no evidence that she had corresponded with him or visited him.
This is followed up by a message from Dr. Michael Lorenz of the University of Vienna's Institute of Musicology who points out that a) this 'newly discovered' photo has been circulating around since the 1950s and has long been thought to be a hoax, and b) "It was simply not possible in 1840 to take sharp outdoor pictures of people as long as the necessary exposure time still amounted to about three minutes. The first outdoor portraits of human beings originate from the 1850s and the picture in question definitely looks like an amateur snapshot from the 1870s."

However, this latter claim (about the technology for outdoor group-photo taking not existing in the 1840s) is contested by Dan Leeson.

But overall, it doesn't seem that there's any real evidence to suggest the woman in the picture is Constanze Mozart. So this should probably be listed as a hoax.
Categories: History, Photos/Videos
Posted by The Curator on Wed Jul 12, 2006
Comments (5)
Well maybe they can always smudge it up a little and make it a ghost photo, then it wouldn't matter what the year was, only that is was old and creepy.
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Wed Jul 12, 2006  at  02:13 PM
Dan Leeson is wrong. Yes a fast lens was developed in 1841 and the details of a faster process were published in December of 1840. But the photograph is claimed to have been taken in 1840 BEFORE both both dates and certainly before they were common.

Furthermore, even a 10 second exposure WILL result in some blurring and whitening. This picture lacks either.

All this is so blatantly obvious, to even suggest the picture is authentic pretty much entirely destroys the credibility of the claimant. On the other hand, I've long learned to never underestimate the gullibility of experts.
Posted by Joe  on  Wed Jul 12, 2006  at  02:50 PM
My first reaction when I read this:

Who cares?!?!!?

How is this a hoax? Who really cares enough to make fooling them with this a big deal? If it was Mozart himself, then maybe I could see it, but Mozart's wife??

I anxiously await your answers! wink
Posted by coit  on  Thu Jul 13, 2006  at  08:46 AM
Michael Lorenz is clearly wrong.Leeson was 100% correct. Outside photographs existed since 1838.
And if anyone cared to investigate,listingb Michael Lorenz as a University of Vienna professor is a bit a of stretch. Lorenz has not been employed since 2000. Both him and Leeson spend all their time arguing in internet chat rooms. Serious scholars dismiss them both
Posted by Peter James  in  London  on  Sun May 16, 2010  at  12:36 AM
Both Dan Leeson and Dr.Michael Lorenz are very much regarded in the same light by the Mozart community. They are both recognized as musicologists, not photography experts.Now they are both making suggestions concerning art history with regard to the newest news of a Mozart portrait miniature found to have been possessed by the esteemed and respected Mozarteum in Salzburg for 200 years.

Dr Lorenz has written a harsh review of the discovery in his "blog" that seems to me to be unprofessional at the least.
Oddly enough, Dan Leeson seems to once again be joined at the hip with Lorenz,and has jumped into the fray on the Mozart Forum,a site dedicated to Mozart. I say no good answers come to those that consult musicologists dressed up as photography experts or art historians. I can listen to them on matters pertaining to musical history or archival research on Mozartiana,but please fellows, you are not experts on everything, and surely not on matters of photography or art history. You cannot declare something real or a hoax by the words of people not qualified to deliver qualified opinions in matters outside their expertise. I am in agreement with the above fellow Peter who complains about internet chat rooms and sniping on line.It denagrates true science and does nothing to bring matters forward.Dr Lorenz is welcome to his blog rants, as Dan Leeson can also post what he wants, but serious men of science reject unmeasured anger in argumentation. In other words, if you appear to be filled with contempt in your expressions, there is no quicker way to lose the ear of a qualified listener.
The Mozarteum has the largest collection of authentic Mozart portraits and they remain the final word in Mozart research period.
Posted by Gunther Reisch  in  Vienna Austria  on  Sun Feb 10, 2013  at  02:57 PM
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