Category Archives: Iconography

Angelic bird musicians

Angelic concerts were an extremely popular motive in late medieval European painting. Music-making, singing, or dancing angels co-created an aura of beauty, happiness, and harmony that artistic tradition associated primarily with the figure of Mary. The nascent tradition was taken up by Gentile da Fabriano (ca. 1370–1427), who created an original vision of the Heavens filled with sweet unearthly music, reigned over by the Mother of God.

The most interesting is Gentile’s first work, painted around 1395 (Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Gemäldegalerie), which depicts Mary with her Child on a throne. There are two lilies, one on each side, and in the background are two trees hiding pink angels who hold musical instruments gleaming with gold light. The bird-like angels in the foliage are a visual reference for the poetic metaphor of birdsong as an earthly manifestation of Heaven’s angelic songs in eternal praise of Mary.

This according to “Bird-like angels making music in Mary’s garden: Gentile da Fabriano’s Madonna and child with saints” by Sławomira Żerańska-Kominek (Music in art XXXVI/1–2 [2012] pp. 177–190).

Above, the painting in question (click to enlarge); below, music by Francesco Landini accompanies a sequence of Fabriano’s paintings, including this one.

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Filed under Animals, Iconography, Middle Ages

The Mozart Post Office

In 1904 Ole Lund, a Swedish immigrant living in Minnesota, applied to the Canadian authorities for a piece of land under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. On receiving the allotment, he moved there with his wife, Julia.

The next year the province of Saskatchewan was established, and the Canadian Pacific Railway began its expansion westward; surveyors chose the Lund farm as their base of operation, and it became apparent that there would be a station depot not far from the Lund Homestead.

The railroad company offered to name the place Lund. The Lunds declined, and Julie Lund suggested that the hamlet be named after her favorite composer, Mozart. The name was accepted, and Mozart, Saskatchewan, officially came into being on 1 April 1909.

In the 1970s postcards with a line drawing of the town’s post office were made available for sale in the nearby cooperative store (above). Mozart’s 222nd birthday, 27 January 1978, was an extremely busy day for the postmaster of the Mozart Post Office, who had to oblige stamp collectors from all over the world who were anxious to have the anniversary cancellation.

This according to “The Mozart Post Office” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 376 [January 2016] pp. 54–55). Below, the celebrated “Letter duet” from Le nozze di Figaro.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography

Mozart in Naples

In 1984 the Scottish National Portrait Gallery acquired two oil paintings signed by Pietro Fabris and dated to 1771. An old label on the frame indicates that the paintings were produced for William Hamilton, the British ambassador at Naples from 1764 to 1800, and the Viscount Kenneth Mackenzie, later Lord Fortrose, who spent time in Naples from 1769 to 1771.

While in the first picture, depicting a scene of fencing, a character sitting at the table has been identified as Niccolò Jommelli, there have been many doubts about the identity of the characters in the second picture, showing a chamber concert. They are now identified as Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the first at the harpsichord and the second, waiting to play, in front of a triangular spinet.

This according to I Mozart e la Napoli di Hamilton: Due quadri di Fabris per Lord Fortrose by Domenico Antonio D’Alessandro (Napoli: Grimaldi & C. Editori, 2006)

Above, the painting in question (click to enlarge); Wolfgang and Leopold are on the left; Lord Fortrose in in the center, with his back turned, with Hamilton on his left and Gaetano Pugnani on his right, both playing violins. Fabris himself peers out at the viewer from the lower left, holding the painting-in-progress.

Below, Mozart’s symphony in G major, K. 74, which he completed during this visit to Naples.

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Filed under Classic era, Iconography, Performers

Music and visual cultures

In 2017 Brepols launched the series Music and visual cultures with Late eighteenth-century music and visual culture, edited by Cliff Eisen and Alan Davison.

In this volume, nine prominent scholars employ a set of interdisciplinary methodological tools to come to a comprehensive understanding of the rich tapestry of eighteenth-century musical taste, performance, consumption, and aesthetics. While the link between visual material and musicological study lies at the heart of the research presented in this collection of essays, the importance of the textual element, as it denoted the process of thinking about music and the various ways in which that was symbolically and often literally visualized in writing and print culture, is also closely examined.

This series will include monographs and thematic collections on issues concerning music iconography and interactions between music and visual arts. The series editor is Zdravko Blažeković.

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Filed under Classic era, Iconography, New series

Swearing on the scepter

At their commencement ceremony, graduates of the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien (MDW) swear to remain forever true to their alma mater with the words Ich gelobe! (I swear!) while touching the university’s scepter.

Designed by the renowned Viennese sculptor Ferdinand Welz, the head of the scepter depicts King David playing his harp. The scrolls under the figure read Universitas rerum musicarum et artis dramaticae vindobonensis and Musica est bene modulandi scientia, the latter drawing on a quotation from Augustine of Hippo.

This according to “Daz zepter der MDW/The sceptre of the MDW” by Christian Meyer (MDW-magazin 2017/2, pp. 22–25).

The MDW celebrates its 200th anniversary this year! Above, three views of the scepter’s head (click to enlarge); below, the anniversary’s official visualization.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography

A pipe organ for a vaudevillian

charles-herbert-barritt-memorial

Charles Herbert Barritt (1869–1929, more generally known as Clifton Barritt) spent much of his life as a vaudevillian and music hall entertainer and his last years as a London publican.

Born in Manchester, Barritt was already treading the boards in his early twenties. Local newspaper notices chart a twelve-year career that took him from Ulster to the Isle of Man, Reigate to Grantham, and all points in between—there seems hardly a pier or stage that did not feature Barritt’s mellow baritone and perfect comic timing at some time between 1892 and 1904. One of his many favorable reviews praised his ability to imitate the styles of various composers, performers, and instruments, adding that he was “always funny, but without being vulgar.”

Barritt remains a notable figure to this day, as his funerary monument in London’s Hampstead Cemetery replicates the form of a life-size pipe organ (he was not known to play the organ at all).

This according to “‘Always funny, but without being vulgar’: Charles Herbert ‘Clifton’ Barritt (1869–1929), Hampstead Cemetery” by David Bingham (The London dead, 25 February 2015). Above, the monument in question.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Humor, Iconography, Instruments

Instrumentarium de Chartres

chartres-cathedral-rose-window

Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Among the cathedral’s precious treasures dating from the 12th through the 16th centuries are the statues of the Portail Royal and its three stained glass windows, the largest collection of stained glass from the 13th century, and several hundred 16th-century bas-reliefs in the choir. These unique elements contain 312 catalogued depictions of 26 musical instruments representing a veritable history of French instrument making from the High Middle Ages through the Renaissance.

Preliminary research led to a 1966 proposal by Julien Skowron to reconstruct some of the instruments depicted in the cathedral’s visual arts; six instruments were built, and in 1977 the Instrumentarium de Chartres was born. Today the collection of some 40 string, wind, and percussion instruments comprises the most complete and most played instrumentarium in Europe; it also serves an important pedagogical function for the curious of all ages who enjoy hands-on experience with the collection. The success of the project attests to the fine medieval and Renaissance artistry that makes modern reconstruction of this rich historical collection possible.

Instrumentarium de Chartres is an open-access online presentation of this collection, presenting images of the original artworks and the newly reconstructed instruments, and many other resources for scholars, performers, and the general public.

Above, a rose window from the cathedral that includes several images of instruments (click to enlarge); below, a brief demonstration of some of the instruments.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance, Resources

Early sources for African instruments

Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes

Among the various musical instruments depicted in early documents (bells and double bells, drums, scrapers, horns, flutes, xylophones, and bow-lute), the double bell is of particular interest because of its relatively good pictorial documentation.

In 1687 a double bell from the Congo-Angola area called longa was first mentioned in print. Even today the Ovimbundu people call the double bell alunga (sing. elunga), and give it an important role in the enthronement of the king.

Early pictorial sources and later reports indicate four types of double bell—those with stem grip, bow grip, frame grip, and lateral bar grip—and of these the stem grip double bell, found in the Congo-Angola areas as well as Rhodesia, represents the older type of double bell and probably has its origin in Benin-Yoruba. It appears that the Portuguese, who got to know the double bell as an important court instrument in the Guinea area, brought this instrument, together with other court appurtenances, to Luanda, their new base of operations after the breakdown of the Congo kingdom.

This according to “Early historical illustrations of West and Central African music” by Walter Hirschberg (African music IV/3 [1969] pp. 6–18).

Above, Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes, published by Pieter de Marees in 1605. Below, Nigerian double bells and other instruments.

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Filed under Africa, Iconography, Instruments

Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Auditorium

Holloway detail

Louis Sullivan’s interior designs for the theater of the Chicago Auditorium Building (1889) reflect the ideas of Wagner and of the transcendentalist and music critic John Sullivan Dwight.

Especially significant are the murals, supervised by Sullivan, which allude to multiple art forms and to the democratic ideal of the opera house as a social institution.

Albert Fleury designed the murals on the side walls using themes drawn from Sullivan’s prose-poem Inspiration: An essay, which is full of musical imagery. The proscenium frieze, designed by Charles Holloway, depicts a central winged figure holding a lyre, flanked by several other figures and by the words “The utterance of life is a song: the symphony of nature”.

This according to “Louis Sullivan, J.S. Dwight, and Wagnerian aesthetics in the Chicago Auditorium Building” by Stephen Thursby, an essay included in Music in architecture, architecture in music (Austin: University of Texas, 2014, pp. 42 –53 ).

Above, the central figures in Holloway’s frieze (click images to enlarge); below, the frieze in the full proscenium; further below, one of Fleury’s murals, with the quotation from Sullivan’s text “O, soft, melodious spring time! First-born of life and love”.

Holloway proscenium frieze

Fleury spring song

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Filed under Architecture, Iconography

Mayan instrument iconography

mayan jaguar drum

Provided mostly by vase paintings and murals, pictorial evidence of the musical practices of the Mayan Classic (ca. 250–900 C.E.) and especially of the Late Classic (ca. 600–800 C.E.) is abundant.

These depictions allow the identification of instrument types—many of them not found as artifacts in archaeological contexts—and their association with specific musical occasions.

What is not always as clear as it may appear is the past musical combination practice of the instruments (and vocal forms) represented in a given picture. Many representations of groups of musicians and musical instruments arouse doubts about their band-like organization or, put positively, give rise to questions about the possible devices used by their painters to indicate musical and social differentiations of such groups.

This according to “Trumpets in Classic Maya vase painting: The iconographic identification of instrumental ensembles” by Matthias Stöckli (Music in art: International journal for music iconography XXXVI/1–2 [spring–fall 2011] pp. 219–230).

Above, a Late Classic Mayan vase painting depicting a friction drum (center); below, John Burkhalter discusses and demonstrates this instrument (demonstration begins at 2:05).

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments