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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Only known photograph of Joseph Smith, Jr.?

This photograph is believed to be a copy of an original daguerreotype taken of Joseph Smith Jr. in Nauvoo just before his death in 1844. It has caused a lot of excitement among researchers who study the image of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Evidence suggests, the Prophet's son Joseph Smith III, submitted a photographic copy of his father's daguerreotype to the Library of Congress in 1879. A daguerreotype is a small unique image that can only be duplicated by being re-photographed. Clear reproduction presented a problem because the majority of daguerreotypes in 1844 were only the size of a large postage stamp. The Library of Congress copy is an 8x10 inch print, which would be an obvious enlargement of a small original daguerreotype.

This 1879 duplication was done with film and equipment that by today's standards would seem quite primitive. It has been retouched around the hair, coat, on the cravat-or necktie-and the vest. Joseph's pompadour hairstyle, considered fashionable at the time, has been poorly frisked or masked along the outline. This retouching has caused the loss of softer, finer, transitional hair between the parted sections. Joseph's face seems free of any artistic retouching, but there is an overall grainy quality that causes the image to be less than one might expect from a photograph. This graininess is probably due to the gross enlargement from the original daguerreotype, however there is a startling photographic quality to the eyes.

This photo may be all that is left of the original image, as the daguerreotype has not been found. It was good that Joseph's son saw the need to safeguard his father's photograph with this copy so that over 150 years later we can now see what Joseph Smith really looked like.

It is believed by a few that this photograph is merely a painting. Careful study of the data compiled by experts shows this belief to be incorrect. Much excitement has come from the comparative studies of this image and a death mask made of the Prophet just after his death. Experts in Facial Surgery, Forensic Pathology, Plastic and Facial Reconstruction, Art, Art History, Archival, and Photographic History, have put together information that not only substantiates the photographic nature of this image, but sheds new light on the history of Joseph Smith in a unique and extraordinary way.

To view this photo, go to the "Links" column on the left and click on "Photograph of a daquerreotype of Joseph Smith Jr., 1844".

Charlie Marvil (the son of the actual Captain Marvil) is an exceptionally talented artist, who has rendered a truly amazing and detailed portrait of Joseph Smith, based on his daguerreotype.
For more of this about that, email Charlie at

Update: The most recent issue of "BYU Studies" includes an article which states that it is not true that this likeness is a photograph of a daquerreotype of Joseph Smith Jr., but that it actually is a photograph of an oil painting of the Prophet, which is owned by the Community of Christ Church (formerly named "The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints").


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