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The Prophet Revealed – Joseph Smith Portrait

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Joseph-gifWhat did Joseph Smith look like?

I read a blog post about a possible photograph of Joseph Smith that surfaced, and the eye test just didn’t do it for me. But how would I even know? All we have are paintings of the prophet, and I believe most are based on the mask, one was supposedly painted when he was alive, and I think there is another that’s trying to pass as a photograph, but to me it looks more like a photo of a drawing.

Which is the real Joseph Smith?

The fact is, the best sure bet we have is his death mask. There may be some slight issues referencing it because it looks as though, from his skull and other accounts, that after he fell out of the window from being shot, he was struck in the face. This could have broken his jaw or disfigured him in other ways. However, I haven’t really heard any accounts from those who knew him suggest it looks nothing like him, so as far as what exactly Joseph looked like, the death mask is the best thing we have.

So, my thought was – why not do a painting based EXACLY on the death mask? Using the death mask as a base and “skinning” the mask to get every proportion and shadow just right.

Tackling the Painting

The idea was to go for a sense of realism. I wanted Joseph to look personable. I wanted to paint details that reflected all of the life he lived in his short time 38 years on earth (Coincidentally, he was the same age at his death as I was when I painted it. That’s a hard pill to swallow comparing what he accomplished in 38 years to what I accomplished in my life. It’s a bit humbling.)

joseph-manpepperOne of the departures from traditional paintings of Joseph that I took was to give him a little stubble. It’s said that he didn’t grow a beard because he felt he couldn’t grow a decent one (I can relate to that.) Nevertheless, did people really find it vital to shave every day back then? Did Joseph make sure he took that time near the end of his life? Learning about his last several months, I get a sense that he was in a hurry, almost a panic, to get everything done he needed to as if he had a sense that his time was near. I imagine running into him on the street and be greeted by a man who may have let it grow out for a few days, as there were much more important things to take care of.

A Scar

joseph-scarOne of the common features that the paintings of Joseph have in common is the hair on the side of his face that was combed forward. Some say this was the style back then, but other accounts suggest that he wore it forward to hide some scarring. After he was tarred and feathered, they peeled the tar off of his skin, and the extremely sensitive part where the hair-line meets the skin would have been torn off, and likely wouldn’t heal well. Therefore, if you look closely, I put a subtle scar on his hairline.

Joseph’s Hair

Joseph was known to have dusty blond hair. This was emphasized from a viewing of an early draft by one of my good friends who owns the LDS bookstore in Nauvoo. I originally didn’t have him blond enough. So I made him a bit more blonde, and threw in a few grey for good measure. Side note: Interestingly enough, when people ask me what took the longest, the answer is his hair. I went through a few iterations.

Joseph’s Eyes

joseph-eyeWith Joseph’s eyes closed in the death mask, this was the part that I had to improvise on the most. I couldn’t cut corners because the eyes are central to bringing a person to life on a canvas. I knew his eyes were blue, but that’s about it. I wanted to give him kind eyes, and eyes that that could reflect having seen the living Christ within them. Eyes that had seen the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel, who had seen and experienced deep suffering, yet the joy of revelations, angels, healings, and sainthood. I wanted to reflect in his eyes the ability to see the final vision of a complete temple, which he was never able to see finished in this life, and the calm disposition of a man who knew that he had done what he could for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom, just as he was about to seal his testimony with his own life.

Is this Joseph Smith?

joseph-smith-mdThere may come a day when I meet Joseph and I say, “Boy, I was off on this or that,” but I honestly feel this is close. I hope it resonates with all of those who hold a special place in their hearts for “Brother Joseph,” and that this painting honors him as he deserves.

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29 Responses to “The Prophet Revealed – Joseph Smith Portrait”

  1. This is amazing and it is not just because you are my son. This is awesome to see how you did it step by step. I love you Chad!

  2. I think the painting is excellent . I think it is a perfect image of Joseph Smith as he really looked. Congratulations and thank you for sharing with us your brilliant talent a with us

  3. That recreation is incredible! Thank you for creating such a marvelous work. I’m a direct descendant of Hyrum Smith and would love to see you do the same with his death mask. Thanks!

    • Hi Randy, thanks for your reply, and I’m glad that you find value in the portrait. Hyrum is on the list, but it may be a while. Joseph took me some time, so I have to work up the motivation 😀

  4. Beautiful portrait of the Prophet Joseph! Do you have a similar one of Hyrum? I would be interested in purchasing one of Hyrum, he is my husbands great great grandfather. Do you have one? Thanks for the description of the Prophet Jiseph, very interesting.

    • Hi Karen, I’m happy that you enjoy the portrait! I do not have one of Hyrum yet, but there seems to be enough interest that it’s on the list. It may be a little while, but I’ll tackle it.

  5. A previous researcher believes that the death mask originally labeled as, and believed to be Joseph (as seen in the Church History Museum many times), was actually his brother Hyrum.

    Is your painting based on the death mask first believed to be Joseph or on the other mask that was originally believed to be Hyrum, but now thought to be Joseph by at least one researcher?

    • I can just picture Joseph in the spirit world saying, “c’mon guys! You’ve been painting Hyrum this whole time!” And Hyrum razzing him for it. Ha! I haven’t heard this before, but there’s many reasons I don’t personally buy into it. One of the reasons is that so many of Joseph’s friends and family had the mask, at what point did someone swap it and no one notice? But the main thing is that there are several unique features to the death mask that do correspond with some of the early drawings/paintings of Joseph that were done when he was alive. I’ll make a more detailed post about that soon. Thanks for sharing the information!

  6. Very well done, but I don’t believe it reveals the tough life that the pioneers endured. Nor does it reflect the stress that Joseph was under for all those many years. Constantly being summoned to court, combatting dissenters and unbelievers, and spending months away from family while in jail, and spending many of his waking hours outdoors, would certainly have produced some wrinkles at 38 years old.

    • Hi Jim – I certainly believe that. I added in some grey hairs because if anyone would go grey premature, it would be Joseph. However, I didn’t want to go too wild with it. A direct ancestor of his suggested that there was too much grey, that it wasn’t common in their line to have that much. I certainly could have made him a bit more tired and wrinkly… but it could also be argued that one of the many things the spirit can do is refine our forms and features, so who knows how those years of hardships would reflect. It’s certainly something to think about, though! Thanks for your comment.

  7. I think you have done a great job in creating a very real likeness of Joseph. I’ve painted and sculpted his likeness many times so I think I know what I’m talking about. Congratulations!

  8. My great-greatgrandfather George Cannon
    Made the death masks, and my great-grandfather David H. Cannon was just a small boy at the time and he said that some of the Prophet’s hair was caught in the plaster and his father clipped it off and handed it to him to hold and that lock of hair was in the family to cherish.
    In my ancestors history it was said he was a very good looking man. And very athletic and enjoyed exercise sports. So I know there were probably a lot of fun times for him, as well as some very stressful times.
    I have wished many times for someone to make a painting of the death masks to show what the Prophet would look like with his eyes open.
    I just love the painting and wish to thank you so much for taking the time to help us all to see what he looked like. I have never really liked some of the old drawing of him.

    • Thanks, Norene! I didn’t really care for some of the early drawings, either. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this painting. You have a great heritage, thank you for sharing!

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you, as I love the man and Prophet Joseph Smith. You have done a wonderful job in portraying his kindness, his depth, his spirit. Someday this painting Will Be hung in my home. Victoria – another Idahoan.

    • Thank you, Victoria! While I will freely admit that this may not be exactly what Joseph looked like, I wanted to bring him to life, make him personable and relatable, and see if I couldn’t capture the one thing that Emma said the others couldn’t… his countenance. I am glad it resonates with you.

  10. Chad, your beautiful mother showed us the magnificent painting that you had done for her. She was so thrilled with it and with you. What a wonderful talent. It is perfect. Thank you for sharing that talent with the world.

  11. Very nice attempt, but you should really consult the information here and revise accordingly:

    • Hi Jack,

      Thank you for your comment. I was very familiar with this and the other accounts that could contribute to how he may have looked different to his death mask. I’ll make another post to address those things in detail soon, and why I chose to stick closer to the mask. Thank you for the information and contributing to the discussion. I’m thrilled to see people take an interest in Joseph and learn new things of him!

  12. Can ya do one of Hyrum too! Awesome btw!

  13. This would be a great gift for President & Sister Heyes.

  14. This picture of Joseph always amazes me. You are extremely talented and I appreciate you sharing it with the world!

  15. This is awesome! I love the prophet Joseph Smith. Have you bought if using the mask to recreate a full front view of the prophet, like a portrait? Honestly, a painting like that would do wonders for me, because the only one I know of that is an portrait is the one that all history books use, which style I don’t really like. I’d love to see one! Good work!

  16. Are prints available? We looked for them at Deseret Book with no luck

  17. In my minds eye with all my passionate study, admiration, and testimony of the Prophet, this is Joseph Smith. Awesome use of symmetry from his death mask to create this portrait.

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