Tag Archives: Iconography

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.

Comments Off on Cymbals and symbols in ancient Greece

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

Iconography in early ethnomusicology

 

Visual depictions of music and music making outside of Europe can be found in abundance in 17th- and 18th- century travel accounts, missionaries’ reports, and books predicated on the idea of the universality of music.

Illustrations of non-European music from this period reflect the early stages in Europe of an ethnomusicological conception of the world, and their pictorial rhetoric often encompassed areas of study that continue to interest scholars in the 20th century. The close connection between image and concept in musicological thinking suggests that the history of the field may perhaps reach further back and may have developed more cohesively than is currently assumed.

This according to “Missionaries, magical muses, and magnificent menageries: Image and imagination in the early history of ethnomusicology” by Philip V. Bohlman (The world of music XXX/3 [1988] pp. 5–27).

Above, in his Moeurs des sauvages amériquains, comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps, Joseph-François Lafitau depicted the imaginary world of Native American myths as well as the empirical world of his observations.

Comments Off on Iconography in early ethnomusicology

Filed under Ethnomusicology, Iconography

Not Luka Sorkočević

In 2015 the Hrvatska pošta produced a stamp honoring the eighteenth-century Croatian composer Luka Sorkočević, inadvertently illustrated with an image of the U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.

The mistake was discovered just before the stamp’s release, and the entire run was withdrawn and destroyed, though one post office had sold 22 examples of it prior to the release date.

In view of the events and given the fact that apparently no copies had yet reached the philatelic market, a 2018 advertisement from the auction house Barac & Pervan noted that this stamp should become widely sought after; and since this rarity is also important for the American philatelic market, its value is expected to increase over time.

This according to “Unissued stamp from 2015 supposed to show Mr. Luka Sorkočević” (Barac & Pervan 2018). Below, one of the composer’s symphonies.

Comments Off on Not Luka Sorkočević

Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography, Reception

Asante gold-dust weights

Until the second half of the mid-19th century, the Asante and related peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast used small brass castings made by the lost-wax process as weights for measuring their gold-dust currency.

These weights, made in large numbers by professional metal workers, came in all shapes and sizes. There were two sorts of weights: those which represent miniature objects, creatures, and activities from local life, and those in non-representational, geometrical forms.

Many of the representational weights depicted musical instruments, either on their own or being played, and activities which traditionally took place to the accompaniment of music. The great majority of these weights show only two types of instruments: ivory trumpets, and various types of drums.

This according to “Music and gold-weights in Asante” by Malcolm Donald McLeod (British museum yearbook 1980, pp. 225–42).

Above, a weight depicting a pair of atumpan drums of the Akan people; below, the atumpan in action.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Curiosities, Iconography, Instruments

Ikonografia muzyczna: Studia i materiały

new series

In 2012 the Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk launched the series Ikonografia muzyczna: Studia i materiały, edited by the team of the Katalog Źródeł Muzycznych led by Paweł Gancarczyk. The first issue of the series is the collection Z badań nad ikonografią muzyczną do 1800: Źródła – problemy – interpretacje (Research into music iconography before 1800: Sources, issues, interpretations).

The series will publish studies on inventory, analysis, and interpretation of art works with musical themes. Its interests include all the traditional areas of musical iconography (depictions of musical instruments, musical scenes, images of musicians, etc.) as well as wider issues of the presence of music in visual arts.

Comments Off on Ikonografia muzyczna: Studia i materiały

Filed under Instruments, New series

Performing Arts in America 1875–1923

Performing Arts in America 1875–1923, a website of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, captures a glimpse of the beginning of the modern age, when a combination of technological advances and societal freedoms led the way to a new world where—among other things—entertainment for the masses became a thriving industry. The upbeat mood of America was reflected in its theater, its popular songs, the craze for ballroom dancing, and above all in the newest of popular fads, the motion pictures. At the same time, America was forging its own classical culture worthy of competing with its European forebears.

This searchable database presents some 16,000 archival visual and audio materials from the library’s holdings, including sheet music, newspaper clippings, photographs of theater and dance performances, and publicity posters.

Above, Ruth St. Denis in Incense, 1908.

Comments Off on Performing Arts in America 1875–1923

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dance, Reception, Resources