Reimagining Beethoven: Mark Alexander's 'Credo I-V' Series
In the spring of 2015, visitors entering the foyer of the Kammermusiksaal Herrmann J. Abs in the Beethoven House in Bonn were greeted by five large dark paintings framed in black. These enigmatic images, which only reveal themselves as portraits of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) upon closer inspection, are the work of London painter Mark Alexander (born 1966) and were created during a work stay in Bonn. The artist was invited by the Beethoven-Haus and stayed there between 2014-2015. The series of paintings, to which Alexander has given the name "Credo I-V," appears perplexing, perhaps even disturbing, and provokes thought and inquiry—both about the artist's intentions and about what is depicted.
All five paintings refer to a common template, a painting by the later Munich court painter Joseph Karl Stieler (1781–1858), which portrays Ludwig van Beethoven at around the age of 50. This oil painting, measuring 72 x 58.5 cm, now resides in the Beethoven House in Bonn and was commissioned at the beginning of 1820 by the couple Franz and Antonie von Brentano, who were close friends of the composer. It is one of the few portraits for which Beethoven sat multiple times, and it is the only contemporary likeness of him for which there is evidence of a dialogue between the musician and the painter portraying him.
From Pop Art to Profound Darkness: Alexander's Reimagining of Beethoven
For modern artistic engagement with Beethoven, choosing such a well-known template offers the advantage of immediate recognition by the viewer. However, it also presents the challenge of finding a clear personal stance and message amidst the motif's popularity. But precisely this, conveying one's artistic standpoint, should be the goal of any serious engagement with the figure of the composer. In this respect, Mark Alexander takes a particularly intriguing and individualized path, especially when compared to the now ubiquitously known version by Andy Warhol.
While the New York Pop-Art artist reinterprets the original portrait through bold color variations, using screen printing techniques derived from mass media, placing Beethoven squarely in the bright, vivid world of modernity, Alexander's Credo series takes a diametrically opposite approach. It immerses the composer in darkness—deep black and black-gray hues, in which his image becomes discernible only upon close inspection and patient observation.