Joseph Smith Portraits: A Search for the Prophet’s Likeness

After years of research and consideration of numerous images, Ephraim Hatch has produced a clearly written and well-illustrated book that attempts to answer the question What did Joseph Smith Jr. look like? Of the many portraits of the Prophet, only a few were created from life and most images of Joseph derive from these early likenesses. Hatch traces the sources of the early images and establishes methods for determining which portraits may be closer to the Prophet’s actual appearance.

According to Hatch, three images are key to establishing a likeness of the Prophet: the famous front-view likeness painted from life in oil (artist and date of portrait unknown) now owned by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the profile military portrait by Sutcliffe Maudsley, and the mask made from the prophets face after his death. The mask, with its fascinating though sketchy history, was made within a day of the martyrdom, and Hatch carefully compares most images to it, maintaining that it is “the most reliable source of information about Joseph’s appearance.” However, the death mask does not reveal the face in full width, and consequently some artists who have relied upon it may have rendered Josephs jaw area too narrow.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 38:4
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