The Research Center for Music Iconography (RCMI) was established at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1972 by Barry S. Brook, with an assistance of Emanuel Winternitz. Its primary mission is the research into musical subject matter represented in artworks. It is directed by Zdravko Blazekovic. RCMI maintains and documents a wide variety of archival material that includes all disciplines and types of artworks, from pre-history to the present. The center publishes the journal Music in Art, a multidisciplinary journal devoted to the study of visual sources of music from antiquity to the present

Asavari Ragini, blue-skinned, charming snakes and fish with wind instrument, with attendant sitting in tree. Circa 1800.

Asavari Ragini, blue-skinned, charming snakes and fish with wind instrument, with attendant sitting in tree. India, circa 1800.

Before musical events were photographically documented, artworks were the only source of pictorial representations of various events, and therefore crucial in assisting us with information about music history, such as:

  • instruments (some of them no longer in existence) and their structure, playing techniques, and use in ensembles; performers and composers;
  • the relationship of the type of instrument to social class, gender, and cultural milieu;
  • the symbolism of music and its meaning within a given social, theological, and philosophical framework
  • musical notation;
  • performance settings (concert halls, theaters, opera houses, and outdoor music), including details of the acoustics in historical settings, or the makeup and placement of musical ensembles;
  • the social function of music: religious, mythological, civic, military, and everyday.
  • FEATNovember

    Nancy November, Picturing Nineteenth-Century String Quartet Listeners

    In both the semi-public and public concerts of the mid-nineteenth century, scholars have noted, listeners were gradually “reforming”. This was due, in part, to critics’ emphasis on a culture of still, silent, absorbed (“serious”) listening. More

  • FEATtan

    Tan Choon-Ying, Envisioning a Romantic Tragedy:
    Delacroix’s Dramatic Images of Othello

    Othello’s Moorish origins very likely piqued Delacroix’s interest in portraying this tragedy, as it gave the artist an opportunity to demonstrate his first-hand knowledge of the oriental world—which had become his favorite theme after he visited Morocco in 1832. Also, Delacroix might have identified with Othello’s paradox of being a hero-victim. More

  • FEATBergquist

    Stephen A. Bergquist, A Piece of Musical Napoleoniana

    This production has many fingerprints of French rule in Milan: the verso of the sheet contains a quote from a French author (Voltaire); the sonnet is addressed to “Citizen” Elisabetta Gafforini, a form of address that came into use after the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789; and the publication is dated Anno X, that is, Year Ten of the Republican calendar. More

RCMI was established as the American national center and the international headquarters of the Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale (RIdIM), an international project aiming to create and maintain access to the sources of music iconography. RCMI’s collections of photo-reproductions of artworks, catalogue entries, and indices is the only such guide assembled in the U.S. where one can easily locate visual representations of any instrument or music-making scene from antiquity to the early 20th century.

The activities of the Center are:

  • maintaining and enlarging a collection of about 20,000 music-related images, as well as reference files on instruments;
  • scholarly research on topics related to representations of music, performance practice, and instruments in the visual arts;
  • researching iconographic material for book publishers, instrument makers, and record labels to enable them to make the fullest use of visual materials;
  • cataloguing images of instruments and music-making kept in American museums;
  • publishing RIdIM/RCMI Newsletter (1975-1997), Music in Art (since 1998); and RIdIM/RCMI Inventories of Music Iconography (since 1987);
  • maintaining a reference library with books and periodical literature on music represented in the visual arts, as well as catalogues of permanent instrument collections and temporary music-related exhibitions;
  • keeping a current bibliography of scholarly literature on music iconography;
  • organizing temporary exhibitions and scholarly meetings about topics related to music iconography.


Zdravko Blazekovic
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309
Phone (212) 817-1992