Tag Archives: Antiquity

Cymbals and symbols in ancient Greece

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses an astonishing bronze figurine, perhaps unearthed in Cyprus: a nude woman playing a pair of cymbals, standing on a frog (inv. no. 74.51.5680). It was probably the handle of a mirror, and the craftmanship is typical of ancient Laconia.

Scholars have never explained the relationships between all the represented elements, but the figurine is obviously related to ancient Spartan music, or at least to its soundscape.

We may wonder whether there is a link between the frog and the cymbals in terms of sound. Did ancient Greeks perceive the croaking as a percussive sound? In Greek antiquity, frogs seem to be associated with several types of instruments.

Since the figurine might come from Cyprus and it depicts a nude woman, it is usually interpreted as Aphrodite. However, if it is a Laconian piece of art, it seems more relevant to recognize here one of the main goddesses of Sparta, Artemis Orthia. She stands on a frog, because her sanctuary was located in the marshlands of Sparta, a place appropriate for batrachia. This place had a specific soundscape of croaking frogs and water sounds. Further, there are remains of feline paws on her shoulders; the archaic Artemis is the mistress of wild beasts.

In the sanctuary, archaeologists found cymbals and auloi dedicated to the goddess for apotropaic purposes. It may be opportune to compare this piece with Asian drums decorated with frogs, which were used to ask for rain fertility: perhaps the cymbals associated with croaking had the same function in ancient Spartan marshlands.

This according to “Croaking and clapping: A new look at an ancient Greek bronze figurine (from Sparta)” by Sylvain Perrot (Music in art XLIII/1–2 [2018] pp. 175–83)

Below, an illicit visit to the sanctuary.

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Filed under Animals, Antiquity, Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments, Nature

Gluck and Winckelmann

Laocoön

“Sculpture, music, text: Winckelmann, Herder, and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride” by Simon Richter (Goethe yearbook VIII [1996] pp. 157–71) considers Gluck’s opera in the context of Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s writings on the statue known as Laocoön, widely regarded as the measure for classical beauty in the second half of the 18th century, and Johann Gottfried Herder‘s writings on the human voice as a common origin for both music and language.

According to Richter, Gluck’s Iphigénie enacts a musical version of Winckelmann’s classical aesthetics, which in turn may have consequences for the way in which Iphigénie is performed, staged, and interpreted. Gluck is in every respect staging the allegorical triumph of his opera reform as the musical counterpart of Winckelmann’s classical aesthetics.

This year we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Althertums (Dresden, 1764)! Winckelmann revolutionized the understanding of stylistic changes in Greco-Roman art and deeply influenced archaeological studies. His concept of edle Einfalt und stille Grösse (noble simplicity and quiet grandeur) put the excessive complexities of Baroque aesthetics to rest, influencing Gluck and others.

Above, the sculpture in question (click to enlarge); below, Véronique Gens as Iphigénie.

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Filed under Visual art