Renaissance Art and Music

: the space between

RA&M–a musicological perspective

Pint-detailMy first real exposure to academic research of Renaissance art and music was an MMus course at Royal Holloway, taught by Stephen Rose. In it, we discussed the ways (as well as the problems) of using the visual arts as an ‘historical’ source for re-creating the musical environments of past eras.

Musicological interest in art has been varied and wide reaching in recent years—in the words of Emanuel Winternitz, in order ‘to free musicology from that isolation into which so many specialized branches of research have fallen in our over-specialized times. [Iconography] makes us study music within its social-cultural context, using it with its sister arts, particularly the visual arts’.[1] The musicological agenda for RA&M seeks to study and further pre-existing research on Renaissance music and the visual arts—including among others, music iconography and mise-en-page—through close interdisciplinary dialogue with specialists in art history.

Music iconography is a fluid and wide-ranging concept, and its breadth has therefore led to the fruitful and diverse research of individual scholars such as Richard Leppert, Emanuel Winternitz and Tilman Seebass, as well as research centres such as The Research Center for Music Iconography (RCMI) in New York. Examining images of musicians, musical performances and spaces has helped not only to answer practical questions of performance practice, but also to identify the social-cultural contexts in which music was conceived, performed and heard.

RA&M also has an interest in mise-en-page. Renaissance books of polyphony were sometimes elaborately illuminated to create an interconnected visual, notational and aural experience. But in favouring a ‘work-centred’ approach, musicology has thus far neglected the visual aspects of Renaissance musical manuscripts. How these various visual and aural aspects co-operated has only recently begun to receive scholarly attention, as with the research of Jane Alden on fifteenth-century Chansonniers and the PRoMS project (

Renaissance music and art shared patrons, religious or secular subjects for depiction, as well as the physical space for their reception. In what ways were art and music representing the same subjects in analogous ways particular to the locale of their commission? Was art commissioned by patrons in similar circumstances and networks as music? Such basic, yet heretofore understudied questions will also be addressed.

While some future directions for the project will doubtlessly appear during the project’s training sessions, seminars and conference, RA&M tries to eschew Peter Burke’s observation that, in approaching the visual arts, scholars from different fields tend to appropriate rather than synthesise the methods of art history.[2] As musicologists, we are interested in what comes from fusing musicology with art history—the new questions it raises from sustained dialogue as well as the new answers that come as a result.



[1] Emanuel Winternitz, ‘The Iconology of Music: Potentials and Pitfalls’, in Perspectives in Musicology, ed. Barry S. Brook, Edward Downes, Sherman J. van Solkema (New York: Norton, 1972), 90.

[2] Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Use of Images as Historical Evidence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2013 by in Blog Post.

Mouton Ave Maria Gemma Virginum

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