Music in Art: International Journal for Music Iconography XXXVI (2011)


Allan W. Atlas (City University of New York, The Graduate Center), I.J. Belmont’s “Color-Music Expressions”: Vaughan Williams on Canvas.

Born in Lithuania in 1885, the painter Ira Jean Belmont (originally Isidor Scheunberg) arrived in New York in 1901 and lived and worked there until he died in 1964. Deeply interested in the techniques and ideas of synaesthetics—he claimed that he could not listen to music without seeing colors—Belmont developed a style of painting that he variously referred to as “color-music paintings”, “color-music expressions”, or “musicscapes”, and turned out at least 120 paintings based on 115 musical compositions by 58 composers as diverse as Beethoven, Wagner (his favorite, and whose idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk he rather naively thought he was perfecting), Rimskij-Korsakov, Sibelius, Deems Taylor (with whom he struck up a friendship), and himself (he was an amateur composer).

After presenting a brief biography of Belmont (in which I bring to light previously unknown documents), I focus on two paintings in particular, those based on Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and his equally popular Fantasia on “Greensleeves”. I review both the “program” of and the predominant colors in each of the paintings (comparing the latter with Belmont’s own table of color-pitch equivalences), and arrive at the following question: was it really a kind of involuntary synaestheticism that we see, or are we rather viewing a carefully thought-out program that is somewhat akin to “program music”, which must certainly be the case in his “translation” of Sibelius’s Tounelan joutsen (The swan of Tuonela)? Finally, I trace the vicissitudes of the paintings after they left (and on occasion returned to) Belmont’s studio.

Olive Baldwin, Thelma Wilson & Michael Burden (Oxford), Images of Dancers on the London Stage, 1699–1800.

Catalogue of images of English and foreign stage dancers who were seen in the London theaters during the eighteenth century. The images range from portraits by leading artists to illustrations for books and magazines and satirical prints. The major sources for the compilation have been the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Garrick Club, the Harvard Theatre Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and the Theatre Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A brief description is given of each image, together with the medium, size and date, where known, and some of the locations where the image can be found.

Patrizio Barbieri (Rome), John Ravenscroft and Bernardo Pasquini: The Art Collections and Instruments of Two Musicians in Late-Baroque Rome.

Archangelo Corelli, who left 142 paintings at his death in 1713, was not the only musician collecting art in late-Baroque Rome. The violinist, amateur composer, and follower of Corelli, John Ravenscroft, alias Giovanni (Battista) Rederi (London, 1662/65–Rome, 12 October 1697)—about whose biography practically nothing was known till now—collected 44 paintings, and Bernardo Pasquini (1637–1710), who has been considered Corelli’s equivalent at the keyboard, collected as many as 156. The inventory of Pasquini’s collection is particularly important because it is the only document so far emerged proving the attribution of the famous portrait representing Pasquini at the harpsichord to Andrea Pozzo (1642–1709). The two musicians were also passionate instrument collectrs: Ravenscroft owned five violins by a well-known maker (Mathias Albani), and Pasquini’s apartment provided space for the same number of harpsichords and spinets. Collections left by the celebrated soprano castrato of the Cappella Sistina Bonaventura Argenti (1620/21–1697) and the maestro di cappella Angelo Olivieri (ca. 1636–1715) are also mentioned. Appendices provide lists of painters indicated in Ravenscroft’s inventory (1697) and in Pasquini’s inventory, drafted by Paolo Giussano (1710), as well as partial transcripts from Ravenscroft’s will and inventory and Pasquini’s inventory, both preserved at the Archivio di Stato, Rome.

Stephen A. Bergquist (Boston), A Souvenir of the Second Empire.

Early in 1858 the Paris publisher Alfred Ikelmer & Cie put on sale a quadrille for piano by Isaac Strauss, entitled Binettes contemporaines (Famous faces of the day), with a title-page by the caricaturist Stop (Louis-Pierre-Gabriel-Bernard Morel-Retz; 1825–1899) depicting twenty-two famous artists, writers, actors, and musicians, including Alexandre Dumas pére et fils, Théophile Gautier, Gustave Doré, and Jacques Offenbach. Many of the persons depicted are hardly known today, but they would all have been instantly recognized by Parisians of the time. Within several weeks after the quadrille went on sale, the author and journalist Auguste Commerson (1802–1879) sought an injunction against the Ikelmer firm, to prohibit further sale of the music. Commerson had himself published, in 1854 and 1855, a series of sixty short satirical biographies, in ten fascicles of six biographies each, with caricature portraits by Nadar, under the title Binettes contemporaines. Not only had Ikelmer appropriated Commerson’s title, but Stop had used four of Nadar’s portraits in his title-page. Commerson was granted the injunction he sought, as well as money damages, and as a result Strauss’s quadrille and Stop’s title-page are of the greatest rarity. Nevertheless, Stop’s lithograph, which includes nine musicians among its subjects, is highly interesting as a depiction of many of the leading entertainers and cultural figures in the heyday of the Second Empire.

Michael Burden (University of Oxford, New College), Visions of Dance at the King’s Theatre: Reconsidering London’s “Opera House”.

This article takes as its point of departure a well-known image of 1796 ballet performance of Cupid and Psyche in progress at the King’s Theatre, included in Rudolph Ackerman’s Microcosm of London (London, 1808–1811). The illustration appears to show not one routine, but two; a second set of dancers appears to be imitating (or at least reflecting) the movements of the first set. The implications of this technique leads to a discussion of the physical history of the King’s Theatre as a house in which dance played not only an important role, but had a decisive effect on its design.

Florence Gétreau (Institut de Recherche sur la Patrimoine Musical en France, Paris), The Portraits of Rameau: A Methodological Approach.

Within the project of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera omnia, edited by Sylvie Bouissou at the Institut de recherche sur le patrimoine musical en France, CNRS, compiled is a catalogue of visual sources related to Rameau which includes portraits of the composer, his librettists, and performers; scenographies and costumes used in performances of his works; and theaters where his works were performed. The corpus of his likenesses includes eleven portraits from which have been produced some derivatives; caricatures and their variants; apotheoses; and posthumous hagiographies.

Mark Howell (Winterville Mounds Park and Museum, Greenville, Mississippi), Sonic-Iconic Examination of Adorno Rattles from the Mississippian-Era Lake George Site.

Sound-making artifacts are rare at Amerindian mound-plaza sites of the eastern United States in the era starting some 500 years before and ending at European conquest (the Mississippian period [1050–1600 ce]). Curious exceptions are small ceramic container rattles in anthro- or zoomorphic shapes such as those that have been found in relative abundance at the Lake George site in the Yazoo-Mississippi River Delta. Five Lake George rattles that were originally affixed to the rims of pottery vessels, here called adorno rattles, are part of a collection of artifacts acquired in the late-nineteenth century by a Mississippi landowner, Brevoort Butler (now housed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, Mississippi). In this essay, the sonic and iconographic elements of the rattles are explored, using archaeology and ethnography, with research focusing on the intentional combination of their sensory-related elements, and the circumstance(s) of their being found separated from vessel rims. (Mississippian pottery from the lower Mississippi Valley was sometimes purposely destroyed during ceremonies.) The multimedia aspect of the Lake George adorno rattles makes their decipherment particularly important for understanding the role of sound and its relationship to iconography and ritual in Mississippian culture.

Emiliano Li Castro (Universitá della Tuscia, Facoltá di Conservazione dei Beni Culturali, Viterbo) & Placido Scardina (Universidad de Valladolid, Departamento de Historia y Ciencias de la Música), The Double Curve Enigma.

The earliest depiction of a chordophone in Etruria, a sort of proto-kythara (or phorminx) with seven strings and played with a plectrum, appears on an amphora from 670 BC attributed to the Heptachord Painter, kept at the Martin-von-Wegner Museum in Würzburg. The round-based instrument has both arms shaped in a peculiar double curve. This distinctive features distinguishing only a few other depicted instruments from the eastern Mediterranean area, spanning a wide geographical and chronological limits. Comparisons come, for instance, from Cyprus (Hubbard amphora, end of the eight century BC), eastern Crete (terracotta group from Palaikastro (LM IIA2 context; 1410–1365 or 1325–1275 BC), and southern Turkey/Syria (cylinder seal from Mardin, ca. 1800 BC). At least two more vases, one found in Cyprus (amphora from Kaloriziki, ca. 900 BC) and the other in western Crete (clay pyxis from Chania, early LM IIIB ca. 1350 or 1250 BC), show the same double curves, but these are coupled with more usually shaped arms.

The strange double curve shown on the arms of these chordophone possible has a structural purpose and it might be related to the physics of the weapon bow with the double curved which profile provide more resistance to the tension produced by its bending what in turn generate higher energy to propel its through. One way to improve the acoustic quality of a string instrument is tightening thicker strings to the instrument. However, when the thickness of strings rises and their number increases, the tension applied to the instrument’s frame tends to break its arms. A solution to the problem could be an elastic structure, acting in a way similar to the weapon bow, fixed to the arms which would dynamically react to the stronger tension absorbing the additional load. This concept which seems to start its development in Ancient Near East during the second half of the third millennium BC, became more evident in the Eastern Mediterranean area during the second millennium, and possibly reached its most refined version with the complex structure often depicted inside the arms of the great concert kithara on black- and red-figure Attic vases.

Judith Milhous (City University of New York, The Graduate Center), Picturing Dance in Eighteenth-Century England. 

Images of performers in eighteenth-century England were scarce until the 1740s, when Hogarth demonstrated that under new copyright laws they could be a profitable commodity. However, artists were quicker to see possibilities with regard to actors than to dancers. David Garrick’s obsessive pursuit of portraits, in character and as a private gentleman, inspired some other well-paid actors to emulate him, beginning a small tradition. Yet dancers did not make enough money to commission the drawings or paintings that might serve as the prototypes for the mass-produced engravings art historians call “reproductive prints”. Neither did artists, lacking the prospect of fees, take much interest in the complexities of how to convey the action and charm of dance. When inexpensive illustrated play series such as Bell’s British Theatre began in the 1770s, dance scenarios had yet to be established as a genre in England, so there was no regular print vehicle to which pictures of dancers might be attached. Nevertheless, images both positive and negative generated by the visit of the great Gaetan and Auguste Vestris to London in 1780–81 demonstrate the range of possibilities for portraying dance and dancers. The ballerina Giovanna Baccelli also participated in this brief fashion for dancer illustrations, which was cut short by the French Revolution. Compared to other ways audience members might spend their entertainment budgets, luxurious mezzotint engravings of star dancers were luxury goods, too expensive to achieve wide distribution.

Cristina Santarelli (Turin), Female Archetypes in Belgian Surrealist Painting.

The adolescence of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte (1898–1967) was marked by an early tragedy, the suicide of his depressed mother. Although he always refused to accept the thesis according to which the traumatic loss of his primary love object had decisive consequences on his art, he drew on the collective unconscious to effectuate his personal descent into Hell and after elaborating his mourning was able to repopulate the world of his painting with the amazing creations we all know. In the ancient world and in many primitive cultures, potent wind instruments and metallophones are often linked to chthonic powers and, in particular, to the cult of the Great Mother, dispenser of life and death; so, musical instruments like tuba and bells shown in Magritte’s works in association with other objects are able to evoke mysterious and disturbing realities.

In symbolist aesthetics, the mythical figure of the siren inherited from classical tradition often takes the form of a modern femme fatale, similar to other enigmatic images such as the chimera, the medusa, the sphinx or the harpy. Transformed from a seductive singing monster into a hieratic priestess of silence, she represents the ambiguity inherent in the female figure, embodying the aspiration to divine beauty and, at the same time, the danger of succumbing to physicality, aroused by erotic attraction. Like Kafka’s sirens, the woman recurrent in the figurative universe of the Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (1897–1994) also appears completely silent. Passing from one canvas to another and appearing as a vestal virgin, a nymph, a goddess, a courtesan or a siren, she remains inaccessible, frozen in her immobility and condemned to an unwanted loneliness.

Matthias Stöckli (Centro de Estudios Folklóricos, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala), Trumpets in Classic Maya Vase Painting: The Iconographic Identification of Instrumental Ensembles.

Provided mostly by vase paintings and murals, pictorial evidence of the musical practices of the Maya Classic (AD ca. 250–900) and especially of the Late Classic (AD ca. 600–800), is rather abundant. It allows the identification of instrument types—many of them not found as artefacts in archaeological contexts—and their association with specific musical occasions. What is not always as clear as it may appear is the past musical combination practice of the instruments (and vocal forms, by the way) represented in a given picture. Many representations of groups of musicians and musical instruments arouse doubts about their band-like organization or, put positively, give rise to questions about the possible devices used by their painters to indicate musical and social differentiations of such groups. The study looks into these questions mainly with regard to trumpet instruments in late classical polychrome vase paintings, the very three-dimensional format of which might have been one of those painterly devices.

David Francis Taylor (University of Toronto), Coalition Dances: Georgian Caricature’s Choreographies of Power.

Over the past fifteen years, scholars of eighteenth-century Britain have come to place increasing importance on the caricature, as both a counter-aesthetic and a rich repository of cultural information. The caricature has immense value, specifically political caricature, also for the dance historian. Focusing on three prints, each of which responds to the same political event—the short-lived Fox-North coalition of 1783—but which appropriates and portrays a different type of dance to do so, I elicits not only the confidence with which graphic satirists harnessed dance as a politico-satirical vocabulary, but, more crucially, the particular ideological connotations attached to different dance forms.

Dance involves bodies working together, negotiating one another, grouping and interacting in complex ways. Equally, it is a form of mastery, a system of discipline in which the body is drilled and coerced through pre-established patterns of choreography, and the rhythm and tempo of the music. These dimensions of dance provided caricaturists with a precise and resonant syntax of power and power-relations—a language through which the continually shifting hierarchies, tensions, and alliances involved in parliamentary politics could be explored, satirized, and re-imagined.

Jennifer Thorp (University of Oxford, New College), “Borrowed Grandeur and Affected Grace”: Perceptions of the Dancing-Master in Early Eighteenth-Century England.

Dancing-masters occupied an ambivalent position in English society during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Although they were culturally indispensable to polite society, they were the butt of much criticism aimed at their way of life and foppish manners or, as one satirical poem expressed it in 1722, their “borrowed grandeur and affected grace”. Some dancing-masters however aspired to a more meaningful image for themselves and their work, represented in the choreographic wit and beauty of their dances for the theater and ballroom, and the skills with which those dances were written down and marketed. In the first three decades of the century Kellom Tomlinson, John Essex and others published dance manuals, and John Weaver penned erudite treatises on the history and nature of various forms of dance. Their immediate aim may have been simply to make money, but there is also a discernible commitment to preserve the standards and aesthetics of dance.

Linda J. Tomko (University of California at Riverside), Framing Turkish Dances.

The movement vocabulary and syntactical devices deployed for the dance in the Turkish Dance, a theatrical choreography by Anthony L’Abbé (created about 1721/22, recorded in Beauchamps-Feuillet notation, and published in London circa 1725), is used as a basis for unpacking the construction model of “Turkishness”. In addition to tapping this choreographic frame for analysis, it weighs the “Turkish” associations created by the music used, its provenance, and connections to the period country dance The Great Turk. It further links the Turkish Dance to the interpretive frame afforded by two “travel books” by Nicolas de Nicolay and Charles de Ferriol from the later sixteenth and early eighteenth centuries. The article connects the wide circulation of images of cultural and occupational “others” effected by these works to L’Abbé’s Turkish Dance and to the imaging and sorting of cultural, occupational, and theatrical “others” proffered by Gregorio Lambranzi’s 1716 Neue und Curieuse Theatrialische Tantz-Schul. It suggests that L’Abbé’s choreography and the imagery of Lambranzi’s book emphasize and capitalize on motion as signifiers of cultural otherness and difference, and that by putting figures in motion, the choreographies they detail or offer recommendations for creating fashion relational interactions as a register for typing and categorizing people.

Wang Ling 王玲 (Fujian Normal University, Fuzhou/Yunnan University, Kunming), Images of Tage from Yunnan.

Tage is a centuries-old popular mass entertainment practiced among many ethnic groups in southwestern China, whose tradition goes back to ancient Qiang people. Forming a circle and moving counterclockwise, the participants in the custom of tage simultaneously sing aloud and dance enthusiastically by rhythmically clapping hands and stamping feet as some of them play musical instruments. Among the Yi people, tage has occupied a principal position and profoundly influenced their spiritual culture. The mural painting representing a tage gathering under a pine tree, painted on the foundation of the southern wall of Wenlong Pavilion in Wenchang Taoist Temple, Weibao Mountain in Weisan County at about 1759, is a vivid portrayal of the tage performance among the Yi people during the Qing Dynasty.

The historical origin of dance in a circle can be traced back to Cangyuan cliff paintings created some three thousand years ago. The earliest known images of tage-type dance can be traced back to the Dian people’s bronze artifacts in the Warring States Period and the Western Han dynasty. The mural painting in the tomb of Huo Chengsi of the Eastern Jin dynasty shows some ten small figures performing tage. The Naxi dongba pictographic character referring to tage shows that the Naxi participants in tage sing as they dance. Tage has changed over the time with the evolution and development of the Yi people. Besides the gourd-shaped mouth organ used in earlier times, the leading and accompanying musical instruments of tage include now the bamboo flute, vertical bamboo flute, and three-stringed or four-stringed plucked instrument. These changes reflect the continuous transformation of the custom in order to better meet the needs of different societies and ethnic peoples in changing times.

Jed Wentz (Conservatorium van Amsterdam), Deformity, Delight and Dutch Dancing Dwarfs: An Eighteenth-Century Suite of Prints from the United Provinces.

The German, Dutch and English markets were insatiable during the seventeenth and eighteenth century with suites of prints showing dwarfs engaged in a variety of upper class activities, such as riding, hunting and fencing, with special emphasis placed on those depicting the art of the dance. From the fountainhead of Jaques Callot’s Variae Figurae Gobbi (1616) a multi-furcated stream of such dwarfish prints flooded the market. Among them the best known is arguably the Augsburg publication entitled Il Callotto Resusciato, oder Neüeingerichtes Zwerchen Cabinet (between 1706 and 1710). The provenance of one particular suite, Johann Jacob Wolrab’s Theatralische Zwergen Tantz-Schul (Nuremberg, 1720), is examined in the context of its complex reception history and distribution in the Dutch and English pirated versions. The most extensive version, a sixteen-plate Dutch pirated edition is reproduced, along with the English translation of the original Dutch verses. The social satire of the accompanying texts is discussed.