What Did Joseph Smith Really Look Like?
December 2012

“What Did Joseph Smith Really Look Like?” Ensign, Dec. 2012, 70–71

What Did Joseph Smith Really Look Like?

This month marks the 207th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth. When he was alive, photography was a new invention, and its use was not widespread. No authenticated photograph of the Prophet is known to exist.

For centuries, people created castings of faces in order to preserve the images of their loved ones. After the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, death masks were made of them, which accurately preserved their facial bone structure. Sculptors and artists later based their works on these masks. Included here is a small sample of those works.

Death mask of Joseph Smith Jr., 1844

This mask was created shortly after the Prophet’s martyrdom. Since the mask did not cover his entire face, his face appears more narrow than it actually was.

Gift of Wilford C. Wood Museum, courtesy of Church History Museum

Joseph Smith, by L. Gahagan, 1850

President John Taylor (1808–87) commissioned this sculpture. He and other men who had known the Prophet met with and advised Lucius Gahagan in England. Gahagan used sketches done from life (by Sutcliffe Maudsley) and the death masks to make portrait busts of both Joseph and Hyrum. Because it was created with input from Joseph Smith’s friends, this is a very significant sculpture.

Photograph by Welden C. Andersen, courtesy of Church History Museum

Joseph Smith Jr., by Alvin Gittins, 1959

Gittin’s portrait was the first to consciously use the death mask as an information source.

Alvin Gittins, © 1959 IRI

Joseph Smith, by Mahonri Young, 1908

This statue was created to stand in an alcove near the east doors of the Salt Lake Temple. It is now on Temple Square.

Photograph of Mahonri Young sculpture by Cody Bell

Monday, 24 June 1844, 4:15 a.m.: Beyond the Events, by Pino Drago, 1987

This portrait is a psychological artistic study of the Prophet’s decision to face charges in Carthage, Illinois, USA.

Pino Drago, courtesy of Church History Museum

Joseph Smith, by Dee Jay Bawden, 1981

To create an accurate likeness, Bawden used Joseph Smith’s skeletal measurements along with the death mask. This statue is displayed outside Carthage Jail in Illinois, USA.

Dee Jay Bawden, courtesy of Church History Museum

Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, 1840, by Theodore Gorka, 1980

Theodore Gorka’s conté crayon studies are an effort to represent the Prophet’s face with life and emotion that seem authentic.

Theodore Gorka, © 1996 IRI