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A History of Conducting in Pictures

Updated on November 11, 2015

1600s—Italy: An anonymous Italian painting portrays an instrumental ensemble in a mixed grouping of winds, strings, and keyboard (see below image; public domain). The ensemble would likely have been led by the keyboard player.

1620—Germany: The title page of Praetorius’s Sciagraphia (a collection of illustrations appended to Syntagma musicum) depicts a performance of several church musicians. A conductor, standing next to the organist, appears to be beating time and/or cueing players (see below image; public domain) (Praetorius II).

1623—Leipzig, Germany: The title page of Johann Hermann Schein’s Fontana d’Israel features groups of players in each panel. Conductors, holding music in one hand with the other hand raised, appear to be directing each group (see below image; public domain) (Naylor 215).

1640—Prague, Czech Republic: A ceiling painting in the Pauline monastery in Prague depicts what appears to be a consort of three trombonists being led by a Kapellmeister (see below image; public domain) (Volek plate 147).

c. 1820—A French lithograph circa 1820 shows a conductor using a roll of paper as a baton. The picture is from a set of lithographs entitled Tableau des vicissitudes de la fortune (see below image; public domain) (Fromrich, Musique et caricature, pl. 59).

1826—London, England: Carl Maria von Weber is shown in three different poses conducting a concert at the Covent Garden using a roll of paper in the below lithograph by John Hayter (see below image; public domain).

1843—France: A depiction of an orchestra printed in “La Parodie de la Vestale,” Chants et Chansons Populaires de la France II, 1843, depicts a theatre orchestra being led by the violinist; notice the player conducting with his bow (see below image; public domain) (London, British Library; Remnant, Musical Instruments of the West 216).

1845—Paris, France: A famous caricature by J.J. Grandville depicts Berlioz in a very "Romantic" conducting stance, conducting an oversized orchestra. Notice that Berlioz uses a conductor's baton, rather than a hand, violin bow, or roll of paper (see below image; public domain) (Hindley 252).

1846—London, England: An image printed in the London Daily News depicts a “monster concert” staged by Louis Antoine Jullien at Covent Garden. The performing forces comprise Jullien’s orchestra and 4 military bands. The conductor is situated in the middle of the ensemble (see below image; public domain) (Remnant, Musical Instruments of the West 218).

1849—London: England: A Promenade Concerte, one of 40 satirical drawings from Richard Doyle’s Manners and Customs of Ye Englyshe in 1849, depicts a large orchestra with conductor situated squarely in the middle of the musicians (see below image; public domain) (Doyle pl. 40). For a similar image, see 1846, above.

1853—Düsseldorf, Germany: A Düsseldorf magazine publishes an apparently satirical depiction of an all-female orchestra, depicts a conductor who faces the audience rather than the orchestra. The picture is labeled, “Damen-Conzert a la Strauss” (see below image; public domain) (Düsseldorfer Monatshefte; Worbs 148).

c. 1870—Carl Bernhard Schloesser’s Une Repetition Generaldepicts a lively orchestra rehearsal, probably in Switzerland (see below lithograph by Thielly after Schloesser; public domain).

1873—Leipzig, Germany: The Women’s Orchestra of Frau Amann-Weinlich, A woodcut after a drawing by Vincent Katzler, depicts a conductor facing the audience rather than the orchestra (see below; public domain) (Musikgeschichte in Bildern: Konzert 159).

1877—Artist Jules Worms depicts an ensemble of musicians with animal heads for the cover of the piano score of La Lutte Artistique (The Artistic Struggle), a quadrille by E. Marie. The conductor, of course, is represented by a monkey (see below image; public domain) (source: Library of Congress).

1879—A caricature from Vanity Fair magazine shows conductor-composer Guiseppe Verdi in a conductor's pose, holding a rather thick baton (see below image; public domain).

1895—United States: A Ringling Brothers circus poster advertises “A superb preliminary musical festival” by Liberati’s Band, billing the ensemble as “America’s grandest military concert band” (see below image; public domain).

1895—A portrait of August Mann (1825-1907), longtime conductor of London's Crystal Palace, is published in Vanity Fair (see below image; public domain). A conductor's chair/stool is shown behind him. Mann is estimated to have conducted more than 12,000 orchestral concerts during his 40-plus years at Crystal Palace (1855-1901).

1899—Conductor Karl Muck is portrayed in Vanity Fair conducting opera. The caption reads "Wagnerian Opera" (see below image; public domain).

c. 1900—Germany: Wilhelm Carl August Zimmer depicts a German village band being conducted by the violinist in The Orchestra, Biergarten (see below image; public domain; source: wikimedia commons).

1901—A set of caricature drawings by Hans Schliessmann (1852–1920) depict Gustav Mahler in various poses conducting the Vienna State Opera (see below image; public domain) (source: wikimedia commons).

1905—An "antics chart" caricaturing "14 poses of modern conducting" is drawn by Hans Schliessmann (see below image; public domain). Notice the similarity to the caricature of Mahler's poses by the same artist (see 1901, above).

c. 1906—A set of postcards by Hans Boehler depict Gustav Mahler at the conductor's podium (see below image; public domain).

A painting of Sir Henry Wood by Cyrus Cuneo appears in the Illustrated London News (see below image; public domain). Wood is an English conductor probably best known for conducting the promenade concerts, also known as the "Proms," for nearly 50 years. He is knighted in 1911.

1911—A photograph shows the well-known bandleader John Phillip Sousa in a conducting pose, holding a somewhat thick-looking baton (see below image; public domain) (source: wikimedia commons).

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