Tag Archives: Symbolism

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

Franck and Rodin

rodin-franck

Both César Franck and Auguste Rodin belonged to the Symbolist movement of the late 19th century, with its sacred ideal and interest in phenomena of metamorphosis.

They also shared the same mythical view of woman and the same sensuality, with its consequent risk of damnation. Both are highly representative figures of their period, although they seldom made use of an aesthetic that verged on the modern.

This according to “Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) et César Franck  (1822–1890): Essai d’une étude comparée” by François Sabatier, an essay included in César Franck et son temps (Revue belge de musicologie/Belgisch tijdschrift voor muziekwetenschap XLV [1991] pp. 77–84).

While there is only circumstantial evidence that Franck and Rodin met, upon the former’s death the latter was commissioned to produce the commemorative medallion shown above.

Today is Franck’s 190th birthday! Below, Renée Fleming sings the “Panis angelicus” from Franck’s Messe à trois voix, op. 12.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Romantic era, Visual art