Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography XLIII (2018)


Rashid Epstein Adams (University of Cape Town), The Making of a National Instrument: Imagery, Symbolism and the Social Function of the Malagasy Valiha.

The valiha, often referred to as the “national instrument of Madagascar”, is a bamboo tube-zither (Hornbostel-Sachs: 312.11) found in many parts of Africa’s Big Island. Although its numerous variations, types and sizes exist without inscriptions, the common bamboo version often features elaborate relief-style imagery. These stylized images, carved directly into the bamboo, portray animals (including the lemur and zebu cattle), trees (often the Malagasy baobab), architectural structures, abstract figures, and geometrical patterns.
When the first sets of visual adornments were incorporated by instrument makers in the late nineteenth century, these emphasized the valiha’s social function as the preferred instrument for the Merina monarchy—constituting the upper classes of Madagascar’s historically dominant ethnic group, whose ancestors settled in Madagascar from Southeast Asia. Considering the diverse identities of the Malagasy people, the valiha’s incorporation of symbols of Merina-influenced adornments including red cloth—a symbol of Merina royalty—soon led to the valiha rising in prominence as an instrument for the elite. Once French colonialism gained a foothold on the island, the valiha’s prestige increased as it became a desired commodity for European collectors. Further international attention, resulting from the valiha’s participation in French expositions and cultural fairs, led to the valiha becoming widely assumed to represent Malagasy identity at large. Whilst the instrument had not necessarily achieved national status on the island itself—as its Merina roots were still remembered among Madagascar’s other ethnic groups—the twentieth-century establishment of a new pyrographic-based decorating technique (in which images are carved directly onto the valiha’s bamboo body) allowed the instrument to embrace more diverse sets of imagery. Although continuing to incorporate Merina cultural symbols (in the form of images of Merina kings, palaces and iconographic symbols), instrument-makers also began to include cultural symbols influenced by mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula —thus embracing identities which Madagascar’s other population groups hold. Together with this recent inclusivity of cultural diversity, the valiha has also begun to incorporate symbols relating to the island’s unique natural history—including images of lemurs and baobabs. The commonplace nature of these truly national symbols on twenty-first-century valihas reinforces how visual culture has contributed to the valiha achieving and acquiring national status.

Jordi Ballester (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Trumpets, Heralds and Minstrels: Their Relation to the Image of Power and Repression in the Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Centuries Catalano-Aragonese Painting.

Trumpets and horns played an important role as heraldic instruments during the Middle Ages. They announced the arrival of kings, nobles and lords, playing at the beginning and at the end of feasts, and they took part in other similar events in which the sound had to be symbolically understood as the sound of the royalty and nobility, that is: the sound of power.
Catalano-Aragonese iconography from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries shows trumpets and horns in those situations, offering a visual representation which not only helps us to approach different roles that the courtly musicians played, but it entails a symbolical content that can be linked to the role of the musicians at court and to symbolism of the sound that their instruments produced. In other words, artists decided to depict such musical images because their visual and symbolical identification evoked among the late medieval viewers the idea of heraldic, military or courtly music. Moreover, there are occasions in which the meaning of the trumpet’s depiction implies not only the idea of power but also the idea of subjugation, imposition, repression and mockery (this is, for instance, the case of scenes with prisoners taken to the scaffold).
Beyond the trumpet and horn, minstrels are also shown with other instruments in complex paintings which combine courtly feasts with scenes of prisoners and/or executions (e.g. Saint John’s decapitation). In such images it seems highly probable that violence and repression were mentally linked by medieval viewers with the symbols of power (musicians included).

Stephen A. Bergquist (Boston), The Musical Paris of Auguste Brouet.

Auguste Brouet (1872–1941) portrayed the working classes and street people of Paris in the first decades of the twentieth century in more than three hundred distinctive etchings. Born into a poor working-class family himself, Brouet was intimately familiar with the citizens of Paris, and particularly Montmartre—small tradesmen, shopkeepers, street sellers, tinkers, and ragpickers. Many of his prints are of musical subjects—itinerant musicians, organ grinders, one-man bands, circus musicians, ballet dancers, café singers, and exotic dancers. He was not interested in the spectacle of performance so much as he was in the performers as individuals. Very few of his etchings depict performances inside the circus tent or on the stage of the Opéra; most of them show performers in quiet and intimate moments before or after their time in the spotlight. Brouet’s etching style is loose and sometimes almost scribbly; he has sometimes been compared to Rembrandt in this regard. He reportedly drew many of his etchings directly on the copperplate, without making a preparatory drawing, which would account for the spontaneous nature of many of his plates. Brouet is not well known today; he left no corpus of paintings or drawings; he was not attracted by large themes, or by the beau monde. His etchings are modest in subject matter and in scale, but they provide a sympathetic look at those Parisians who, in the first three decades of the twentieth century, struggled from day to day to eke out a living.

Chan Ko-On 陳高安 (The Chinese University of Hong Kong 香港中文大學), Representation of Music and Dance in Manga.

In dance manga, which emphasizes actions and movement, music functions merely as the background and only the physical properties of sound are represented by musical notations, images of musical sources, and onomatopoeia. In music manga, time is frequently suspended and a lot of pictorial metaphors of emotions, mostly in form of natural phenomenon, are used to highlight the emotional content of the piece. In the case of program music, these pictorial representations of music can furthermore be the visualization of the program and resembles the actual experience of listening to music. The Japanese aesthetic understanding of the relationship between music and nature, nature and emotion, and ultimately music and emotion are effectively condensed into one or a few visual icons, which is unique to the genre of manga.

Lars Christensen (University of Minnesota), Imag(in)ing Musical Instruments: Prescriptive Iconography in the Northern Song Dynasty.

The interpretation of historical musical depictions often hangs on the difficult question of whether images are better characterized as descriptions of what actually happened or prescriptions of what the artist thought should happen. This dichotomy is reconsidered in light of the goals of scholars of the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) and the images they produced of musical instruments. In their efforts to better understand the ritual music venerated in the classics, these scholars concentrated in particular on material questions regarding the construction of ancient instruments. Perhaps influenced by the classical precedent of Book of Changes figures or the conceptual changes that accompanied the spread of printing, these scholars tended to promote illustrations as a means of transmitting their research. Drawing on the three forms of historical authority available to them, traditions of classical illustration, descriptions given in received texts, and discovered ancient artifacts, they produced illustrated treatises that now provide many of the earliest self-conscious illustrations (as opposed to incidental depictions) of musical instruments in China, though the actual content and style of these illustrations vary enormously. Living during an age that heavily promoted fugu (“recovery of the past”), these scholars could hold two different understandings of that ideology, seeking the recovery of abstract knowledge about the past or the recovery of embodied practices from the past. Depending on one’s political sympathies, stance toward the past and realities of historical change, and understanding of the symbolic value of historical objects, the images in these treatises could be understood by viewers of the time both as descriptive illustrations of instruments from the past and as prescriptive illustrations for how ritual music in the present should be reformed.

Marita Fornaro Bordolli (Universidad de la República), The Uruguayan Carnival Stages of the First Half of the Twentieth Century between Transgression and “Measured Joy”.

Tablados, street stages for the Carnival shows in Montevideo provided between 1900 and 1960 a privileged aesthetic diversity and popular management. They were inherited from the Spanish tradition of outdoor performances and facilitated representations of the different music ensembles and popular theater such as murgas, humoristas, parodistas, and Afro-Uruguayan comparsas. They were organized by the city authorities or, for the most part, managed by neighborhood groups.
By 1930 there were about two hundred tablados participating in Carnival celebrations. The scenery, largely consisting of three-dimensional figures made of wire frame and paper maché, followed two aesthetic trends: one adhering to the currents of art nouveau and art déco, prevalent styles in the 1920s and 1930s, and other responding to the characteristics of Carnival regarding critical analysis of the customs and events of the annual cycle. In the latter case, the topics were also a critical element, with aspects of satire, parody, irony, and in many cases with a tendency towards caricaturesque expressionism. The two aesthetic aspects also included allegorical characters. In this sense the scenography of the tablados can be linked with the aesthetics of the carros alegóricos (parade floats), the starring vehicles of the corsos (Carnival parades). Carnivalesque iconography was thus developed in fixed points, the tablados, and in a sort of mobile Carnival; the parades taking place in the main avenues of the city and in neighborhoods as well. Merchants and residents of each neighborhood financed these street stages. Scenography competitions were held and each tablado awarded, by popular vote, the best ensembles. The tablados constituted centers of Carnival sociability and popular insertion into the spirit of these festivities.

Alexandra Goulaki-Voutira (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki / Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης), Conventions, Formulae and Observable Reality in Ancient Music Imagery.

The development of musical iconography concerning ancient Greece has produced in recent years numerous studies dynamically seeking to revive the musical reality of this period. The large number of representations, especially in vase painting, has attracted the interest of many scholars, who dealt systematically with various subjects, such as musical contests, cult scenes, banquets, education, or gatherings of women. There are increasing efforts to combine iconographic data with information from literary sources, with elements concerning the theory of music and also with the remains of musical instruments, whose study has witnessed considerable progress due to the reexamination of old and new finds.
In the field of iconography there is increasing awareness of the peculiarities of the material, especially vase paintings. The representations are not what we might call “realistic depictions” of musical themes. In most cases we have to work with scenes painted on mass produced ware, based on a relatively limited repertory of motifs subjected to various limitations and conventions. It is difficult to decide whether the variations of types in the portrayal representations of musical instruments are due to real differences or to misunderstandings on the part of the artist. It is also very probable that most representations reproduce sketches the painter had at his disposal rather than the objects themselves. This is a very common practice in the history of art: artists do not represent nature, but models made by their predecessors.
In any case, the visual material concerning the music of antiquity, with all its problems, is a contemporary source belonging to the musical reality of its period. The often hypercritical attitude of modern research towards the processes that lead to the creation of musical motifs and the doubts concerning the reliability of the information the imagery of the instruments provide on playing techniques creates the necessity for a more balanced approach and a reconsideration of these documents and their value.

Wm. Keith Heimann (The Juilliard School), The Road to Success: “The Long Glorious Grind”.

In the early twentieth century, Americans were obsessed with the dream of individual success, inspired in part by the motivational discourse published in the burgeoning mass media industry. Soon thereafter, “The Golden Age of Illustration” provided expansive visual commentary that reinforced the written rhetoric. The National Cash Register Company published “The Road To Success” in 1913, a virtuoso pen and ink allegorical cartoon. In it, NCR employees were invited to negotiate an arduous ascending road that culminated in the pinnacle of success. However, the journey required to reach the summit was congested with an infinite number of possible detours, dangers and even death. Success was attainable only by a one, rather obscured option. The Etude Music Magazine (1883–1957), the leading publication for private music teachers in the United States, adapted the cartoon, substituting corporate signifiers with those of music education. In 1918, The Etude revisited the concept of the original illustration, but highly modified with sensitivities reflective of World War I.

Chrysi Kyratsou / Χρυση Κυρατσου (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens / Εθνικόν καί Καποδιστριακόν Πανεπιστήμιον Άθηνών), Rebetiko Encountering Comic Book.

The music and culture of Greek rebetiko inspired David Prudhomme to produce his comic book Rébétiko: La mauvaise herbe, published in 2009. It is a fictional story about rebetiko in the life of its four emblematic figures, set in a single day in 1936 (Markos Vamvakaris/Μάρκος Βαμβακάρης, Giorgos Batis/Γιώργος Μπάτης, Anestos Delias/Ανέστος Δελλιάς, also known as Artemis/Αρτέμης, and Stavros, whose figure is inspired by Giannis Papaioannou/Γιάννης Παπαϊωάννου). The specific example constitutes an interesting case, where the popular music genre encounters a hybrid medium of visual culture that combines text and image, both of which have been passionately despised and adored. The comic book has a plethora of representations of music and dance, as well as the people who created them, immortalizing certain aspects of the culture and history of rebetiko. At the same time, the comic-book is a modern creation that narrates the story of rebetiko mediated by the creator’s own culture and conscience. Aspects regarding the information for the genre, as well as about why the specific aspects were represented in the specific way are discussed: What do the specific representations of rebetiko music and dance inform us of the genre? What do the specific representations tell us of the creator’s culture and conscience? How does the comic book echo myth, and contribute to its making? How do the visual elements represent the sound of the performance? How does the lyrical content of the songs emerge from the pictures? How does the specific comic book form a dialogue with visual representations synchronous of the rebetiko culture?

Joan Mut i Arbós (Universitat de les Illes Balears, Instituto de Estudios Hispánicos en la Modernidad), Sappho Recalled to Life by Music: Feminine Emotion and Raison d’État in Neoclassical Napoleonic Painting.

The painting Sappho Recalled to Life by the Charm of Music (1812; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) by Louis Ducis (1775– 1847) is interesting in numerous diverse aspects. Firstly, it constitutes an original and very significant example in neoclassicism of the most genuine Napoleonic origin. Moreover, besides being based on a contemporary source (Étienne-François de Lantier, Les Voyages d’Antenor en Grèce et en Asie, avec des notions sur l’Égypte, 1797), it offers an interpretation of the therapeutic use of music that ultimately dates back to ancient authors like Empedocles of Acragas and Pythagoras. It seems, as a whole, to comprise a complex allegory in which the force of reason and the national interest (raison d’état) prevails over an instance of excessively vulnerable feminine sentimentality. In this scene, the poet from Lesbos stands as a sort of heroic counter-model in opposition and contrast with the patriarchal and militarist model advocated by the new Bonapartist Empire.

Akoko Nozawa (Nagoya University, Nanzan University, University of Michigan) and Yohannes Hanan Pamungkas (Universitas Negeri Surabaya), Depictions of Music Making and Theatrical Dynamism: The Reliefs of Candi Penataran in East Java, Indonesia.

This article explores the aesthetic context of music iconography on the reliefs of Candi Penataran in East Java as part of re-evaluation of the interpretation by Jaap Kunst (1891–1960) in the colonial era. From the perspective of an interdisciplinary study of the ethnomusicology and archaeology, we particularly focus on the narrative sequence of a relief arrangement embodying a Hindu creation myth.
Construction of Candi Penataran began in the twelfth century and was completed in the fourteenth century. The relief images of musical instruments at the site appear on the rectangular stage (pendopo teras) and the main temple (candi induk). The pendopo teras incorporates images of xylophones, cymbals, and dumbbell-shaped percussion instruments within illustrations of local literature, while the first floor of the candi induk depicts the Ramayana epic, including sculpted gongs, a flute, a bronze percussion instrument, and a drum in the battle scenes. Significantly, the two reliefs are arranged in a counterclockwise order (prasawya), while a relief of the Krisnayana eulogy on the second floor of the main temple is conversely arranged in a clockwise order (pradaksina).
Recent archaeological research has related the regularity of these arrangements to the dichotomous philosophy of Samudra Manthan, a Hindu myth of amerita (the water of immortality), as generated by the two opposing powers of the pradaksina movements by gods and the prasawya movements of demons. Given that this emblematic structure reflects the interplay of Hindu traditions of circumambulation and elements of the theocratic rituals (pendharmaan) of medieval Java, the epistemological value of the narrative reliefs appears to have been intricately linked to the highly physical movements of ritual practice. Hence, amid this theatrical dynamism, the musical iconography embedded in the impure prasawya context would have served as a significant aspect of symbolic preludes, evoking a state of fascination with the divinity of kingship.

Sylvain Perrot (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Archéologie et histoire ancienne: Méditerranée — Europe (ArcHiMèdE), Université de Strasbourg), Croaking and Clapping: A New Look at an Ancient Greek Bronze Figurine (from Sparta).

The Metropolitan Museum of New York acquired from its first director Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904) an astonishing bronze figurine, perhaps unearthed in Kourion (Cyprus): a nude woman stands on a frog and plays a percussion instrument (inv. no. 74.51.5680). The object was probably a handle of a mirror and the craft is typical for ancient Laconia. Scholars have never explained the relationships between all the represented elements. The figurine is obviously related to ancient Spartan music, or at least its soundscape. Indeed, the woman holds a percussion instrument that should be identified as cymbals. We may wonder whether there is a link between the frog and the cymbals in terms of sound. Did ancient Greek 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 batrachians. This place called Limnai had a specific soundscape made of croaking and water noise. Furthermore, 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 with Asian drums decorated with frogs, which were used to ask for rain fertility: maybe the cymbal associated to croaking had the same function in ancient Spartan marshlands.

Chris Price (Canterbury Christ Church University), “Pictorially Speaking, so Ludicrous”: George IV on the Dance Floor.

That description of the future George IV by the historian John H. Plumb summarizes a life in caricature which, for a man so acutely aware of his public presentation, was unendingly painful. In a long history of political assassination, the cartoonists of Georgian Britain were among the most merciless the nation has ever known; unfortunately for George, the visual image of such a corpulent physique attempting dance was irresistible, and his treatment at the hands of artists such as James Gillray (1756–1815) and George Cruikshank (1792–1878) has left us with a body of work which shows British visual satire at its cruel best.
Later writers looked back with embarrassment and regret at a period during which the reputation of the monarchy was at an extremely low point, but the socio-political environment from which these pictures emerged was very different from that of the Victorian age. Indeed, the Victorians’ obsession with respectability may be seen as a reaction against a period in which there was a most bizarre combination of libertine excess with more-or-less contained dissent in the social and political realms.
Encoded in these images, then, is a representation of British society which says much about our sense of national identity, as seen both by ourselves and by others. Witty, outstandingly disrespectful, and vicious, they are visual incarnations of who we are, who we think we might like to be, or both. This artistry may still have something to say to us today.

Yang Yuanzhen 楊元錚 (The University of Hong Kong 香港大學), A Manual of Qin Types of Past Dynasties: A Speculative Genealogy?

The arrival of curiously-shaped jade objects from ancient Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 bce) in antique shops in mid twentieth-century Beijing that had the outward appearance of the Classical qin zither led contemporary qin players to jump to the erroneous conclusion that these were qin plectrums fashioned in the shape of the instruments they played. Their outlines were after all similar to the qin templates found in albums of such images from the medieval period onward. After the initial burst of enthusiasm, archaeological evidence laced with a heavy dose of common sense refuted the suggestion, and the icon (the jade object) and the iconography (the album templates) have separated into an item probably worn for decoration and a series of pictures categorizing variants of an instrument whose history in this form has only been about a thousand years.


Benedetta Saglietti, Voir la musique, by Florence Gétreau (Paris: Citadelles & Mazenod 2017), 415 p. ISBN 978-2-85088-719-2.

Barbara Russano Hanning, Late Eighteenth-Century Music and Visual Culture, ed. by Cliff Eisen and Alan Davison. Music and Visual Cultures 1 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2017), 231 p. ISBN 978-2-503-54629-2.

Martin Kirnbauer, Vom Sammeln, Klassifizieren und Interpretieren: Die zerstörte Vielfalt des Curt Sachs, ed. by Wolfgan Behrens, Martin Elste and Frauke Fitzner. Klang und Begriff: Perspektiven musikalischer Theorie 6 (Mainz, etc.: Schott, 2017), x, 434 p. ISBN 978-3-7957-1284-6.

Cristina Santarelli Partenope da Sirena a Regina: Il mito musicale di Napoli, by Dinko Fabris. Le vie dei suoni 3 (Barletta: Cafagna Editore, 2017), 304 p. ISBN 978-88-96906-23-1.

Florence Gétreau, Counterpoints: Dialogues between Music and the Visual Arts, by Philippe Junod. Translated from the French by Saskia Brown (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2017), 317 pages. ISBN 978-17-8023-811-1.