RCMI Inventories of Music Iconography

One of the primary goals of music historians is to discover what made up the entire experience of a musical performance at specific times in the past, and one of the essential roads to this end is through contemporary pictures of music-making. A thorough description of a musical scene is not only a list of the musical instruments used, but also a description of the instruments’ structure, the technique of their performance, the relative placement of the performers, the musicians’ social status, the performance’s nonmusical participation and the purpose of the artwork. The use of music iconography—the description of music in artworks—is hedged around with uncertainties: Were the artists’ models accurate? Which elements of the illustrations are imaginary and which are real? To what extent were artists constrained by style or by their patron’s wished? Music iconographers, rather than regard such difficulties as limiting to their research, instead broaden their view to examine all the factors involved in the creation of an art object.

The Research Center for Music Iconography has been collecting reproductions of music iconography and formulating guidelines for their description and study since its founding by Barry S. Brook in 1972. Center’s goal is cataloguing and indexing of artworks in all media and from all periods according to a method that best describes their musical content. Its series RCMI Inventories of Music Iconography was designed to help scholars in their research and interpretation of such artworks, and catalogues virtually all the pre-1900 artworks of musical interest (paintings, drawings, sculpture, decorative arts, and manuscript illustrations) kept in selected American museums. In each inventory, entries describing musical subject matter represented on relevant artworks are arranged by the time period and geographical region of objects, and accompanied by indices to museum inventory numbers, artists, and the subject matter (including instruments, type of performer, size of performing group, and setting of the musical scene). Five volumes have been published so far:

National Gallery of Art $10
Art Institute of Chicago $10
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City $35
Frick Collection, New York City $15
Cleveland Museum of Art $25