Musical Instruments – Giving a Voice to the Heart - Nicholas Georghiou

This collection consists of pieces that display musical instruments in European artwork. It is mainly of paintings that have incorporated instruments into it and some of them are photographs of actual instruments that were used all over the continent. There are pieces that date back as far as the early 1200s to the late 1800s. Recognizing the importance that music plays to human beings and within the world of art cannot be overstated. It has been a driving force of expression since the dawn of mankind.

Andrea Amati (ca. 1505-1577), c. 1550, From the collection of: National Music Museum, University of South Dakota
This piece is commonly referred to as “The King.” It is the oldest cello known in existence. Built by master craftsman Andrea Amati sometime in the mid-16th century in Cremona, Italy. It’s believed that between 1560-1574 to have been painted with the coat-of-arms and motto of King Charles IX of France. The main focus of the design is the crown in the center and its coat-of-arms with the Justice figure holding a sword in her right hand beside it. There are also tall columns on either side, albeit the left side has worn over time, with angelic figures placing a crown on top. There is a great deal of detail packed into this small space with deep colors that are still vibrant nearly 500 years later.
Initial C: David Playing Bells, Master of the Ingeborg Psalter, after 1205, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
The next piece in the gallery is called “Initial C: David Playing Bells.” From the opening letter C of Psalm 97, it was drawn sometime after 1205 in France and shows King David playing a carillon of bells while being accompanied by two other musicians. It illustrates what is said in the Hebrew bible: that David had led other musicians in musical rituals in conjunction with the installation of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem. Its main focus is of David as he is the center of the image and the largest than any other subject and has the accompanying musicians gazing at the bells looking for guidance as he plays them.
Harpsichord, Giovanni Celestini (Italian, active 1587-1610), 1596, From the collection of: Royal Ontario Museum
Here is a Harpsichord from 1596 Italy with Johannis Celestini Veneto MDXCVI (1596) inscribed into the name board above the keys. It has a three-legged stand which aides in diverting the viewer’s attention above it to the instrument itself. It has a trapezoid shaped case made of cypress and cedar, which is set on an outer case to its legs. The inner side of the case cover has an oil painting with very round babies dancing together holding hands, which could signify unity as they are all connected to each other.
- Image 1, attributed to Jacques Regnault, c. 1650-1675, Original Source: photographer: Bill Willroth, Sr.
This is a Pochette (pocket-sized fiddle) c. 1650-1675, attributed to Jacques Regnault. Dancing masters who were employed to teach aristocratic children the latest steps typically played these instruments. Their small size made them extremely portable and was often able to fit into the pocket of the dancing master’s jacket, hence its French name, pochette. They were usually made out of very expensive materials with this one featuring a one-piece ebony back, neck, pegbox, and finial. There is also twisted silver-wire inlaid into the ebony for extra decoration, while the spruce belly just below the fingerboard has a heart carved into it. A perfect displayed merging of art and music.
The Five Senses, Hearing, GONZALES COQUES, ca. 1650, From the collection of: Muzeul Național Brukenthal
The painting entitled “Hearing” c. 1650 from his series “The Five Senses,” shows Gonzales Coques’ clear Baroque style. In the series his sitters consisted of apparent common people, from the lower middle class. This painting in particular concentrates on the effect that music has on the people creating it and simultaneously the intoxicating effect it can have on the listener. The musician himself is greatly affected by the sound of his own violin. There is incredible use of specific lines in this piece where the violinist’s head and elbows make a perfect triangle. There is also the way lines of the violin body running up to his face and the bow nearly parallel to the side of his head, drawing all the attention to his expression.
Dartmouth Castle, Paul Sandby RA, 1794, From the collection of: Yale Center for British Art
“Dartmouth Castle” was painted in 1794 by Paul Sandby in Scotland featuring a very serene landscape of the castle on the water. There is a musician playing his instrument to a small audience of four, as they sit and lie by the shore. There is great use of color and light values in this painting. The colors are mainly of light shades that create a coherent setting in the painting together and highlight the sunset behind the hill. The light value accentuates the sunset, drawing the viewer’s attention slowly to it. All while creating a calm mood.
Pedal harp by Sébastien Érard, Sébastien Érard, 1800, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
Here we have a single-action Pedal harp by Sébastian Érard from 1800. It is a soundboard cross-grained and decorated in neo-classical style. This harp is embossed with beautiful, colorful paintings of tables holding arrays of flowers and watering cans that run all the way up to the top on either side. The illustrations compliment the deep tone of the gold body of the harp.
Evening Pasture, James Smetham, ca. 1865, From the collection of: Yale Center for British Art
James Smetham painted “Evening Pasture” in 1865. The English painter creates a calming view of the hills during sunset. The musician plays his instrument for the resting sheep and the woman to the left, as she enjoys the music while lying at the base of the trees. The sheep laying down next to her sleeping reinforces the serene nature of the landscape. The colors in this piece contain very earthy tones, which play into the natural feel of the painting. The texture of landscape is very fluid. The imagery in the center of the painting seems to mesh very smoothly and easily; creating a space beyond the musician and woman that isn’t busy or taking away much of the viewer’s attention.
Prelude to a Concert, Marguerite Gérard, ca. 1810, From the collection of: National Museum of Women in the Arts
“Prelude to a Concert” is a French oil painting by Marguerite Gérard. Painted in 1810, it displays young man and woman preparing for a concert. The lighting of this painting accentuates the girl and pulls the focus in her direction. This coupled with the fact that she is wearing a bright, white dress makes it near impossible for anything else to be the center of the piece. Gérard uses lines to draw the viewer’s attention to the women with the cat, dog and man, looking in her direction. She also creates three separate triangular connections between the subjects. Between her, the man and the cat, then her and the two animals, and then again between the man and the animals.
Still Life with Musical Instruments and Books, Bartholomeo Bettera, Mid-17th century, From the collection of: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
This final piece is called “Still Life with Musical Instruments and Books” painted by Bartholomeo Bettera, during the mid-17th century. The painting depicts mainly a piano, with sheet music and a string instrument draped over it. The colors have very earthy tones that give the painting a particularly grounded feeling. There are hard lines in the piano keys and the cases that are on top of it pulling the perspective to the back of the painting.
Credits: All media
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