This exhibition catalogue brings together late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century prints with musical subject matter, drawn from the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich. Its author, an authority on emblem studies and on the Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel, planned the exhibition to coincide with the fifth international Emblem Conference in Munich in the summer of 1999. One premise on which the exhibition and publication are based is that sixteenth-century representations of musical subjects, ‘only very exceptionally involve precise reproduction of the musical practices of the time’ (p. 7). Instead, Vignau-Wilberg argues, the imagery breaks down into various symbolic categories, which relate a variety of themes, from celestial harmony and temporal power to both noble and base aspects of human nature.
The first chapter, “Harmony of the Spheres and Choirs of Angels,” discusses prints representing circles of musician angels. Identifying the motif as a “christianization of the ancient philosophical conception of the cosmos (p. 17),” Vignau-Wilberg traces the sources of that idea from Pythagoras to the Prague court astronomer, Johannes Kepler. Chapters II and III treat imagery that is often connected with dynastic power: the muses as symbols of the highest levels of intellectual accomplishment, and triumphs, as seen in depictions of David and Mordechai, and in the Triumphal Procession of Maximilian. The following chapters survey both courtly and commonplace images of music making, from the Weiskunig woodcut, in which young Maximilian is taught music simultaneously by a circle of keyboard players, a harpist and a flautist, to prints of beggars with bagpipes by Dürer and Hendrick Hondius (in a reproduction after Lucas van Leyden which contains comments on the rarity of the original), as well as scenes of peasant and middle class musician couples, the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas, and the musicians who accompany the dancing Magdalen.
Chapter VI, “The Power of Music,” identifies four mythical and historical figures whose music making, as depicted in the Renaissance, was thought to communicate a range of spiritual and ethical ideas: David, Orpheus, Arion and St. Cecilia. Further prints in that chapter show the association of music with moral excess. And finally, Chapter VII brings together a unique group of prints, by Jan Sadeler, Philips Galle, Zacharias Dolendo and Crispin van de Passe the Elder, which reproduce the score of motets in their entirety. These are major musicological documents: of the many motets represented in these prints, only one – that of Orlando di Lasso in Jan Sadeler’s engraving of King David Playing his Harp (cat. 2) – was ever published as actual sheet music.
Designed for a time when visitors from around the world throng Munich museums, the catalogue is beautifully written, in both German and English. While the side-by-side presentation of the two languages in adjacent columns tends to slow one’s progress through the text, the layout is otherwise clear, and the print images come across very well in the reproductions. This catalogue will be particularly interesting for readers interested in musicology as well as in art history and emblem studies.
St. Lawrence University