I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new chapter on music iconography. The chapter, entitled “The Harmonious Blacksmith, Lady Music and Minerva: The Iconography of Secular Song in the Late Middle Ages”, has appeared in print in a collection of essays Music, Myth and Story in Medieval and Early Modern Culture, edited by Katherine Butler and Samantha Bassler. Published by Boydell & Brewer, the production quality is tremendous and the editors have done a marvellous job of assembling fifteen chapters that explore the myriad mythologies (beyond the well-known Orpheus story) that shaped not only musical thought, but also its styles, techniques, and practices from the ninth to seventeenth centuries in Europe. Five colour plates (of a total of ten) accompany my essay and further increase its impact.
The following is an abstract of my chapter:
A number of fifteenth-century Italian collections of polyphonic song feature at or near their beginning historiated initials showing a bearded figure beating an anvil with two hammers. In his early seminal article, Paul Beichner argues that late medieval literary and artistic sources often confuse the iconography of Jubal, the biblical inventor of music, and his brother Tubalcain, the inventor of smithing and warfare. Part of the fault seems to lie centuries earlier with Peter Comestor who conflated the biblical tradition with the Hellenistic story of Pythagoras’ discovery of music’s proportions. No matter who the blacksmith was for different medieval authors or artists, the underlying iconography is pervasive, symbolizing the musical arts in the vernacular vein. Authors have been quick to accept that the association of this harmonious blacksmith with Lady Music by fourteenth- and fifteenth-century illuminators and painters requires no further explanation. This chapter proposes that the association of Lady Music and the musical blacksmith draws upon the iconography of Minerva, especially in the manuscript tradition of Giovanni Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claris. Two conclusions are reached. First, a fresh understanding of the place of notated songbooks in late medieval musical culture emerges which situates them as objects of musical skill, artistic commerce and learning. Second, recognition of the pervasiveness of the iconography of Minerva provides the basis of a new reading of Dosso Dossi’s Allegory of Music (c.1522), which features two canons, one by Josquin and another possibly by Willaert.
Abstract by the author.
Unfortunately it is not possible to provide an open-access PDF of the chapter on this blog. For a limited time, however, Boydell & Brewer are offering customers a 25% discount on the usual price of the book (GBP £60/USD $99).
Order online at www.boydellandbrewer.com. Please be sure to quote reference BB125 when prompted (online this will be at the checkout). This offer ends 10 June 2019.
I’m currently writing a chapter on the material representation of canons in early sixteenth-century northern Italian art. The number of canons in art suggests that they played an important role in the musico-visual culture in courts and ecclesiastical institutions of this time. Some better known examples of canons in paintings include the Agnus Dei II of Josquin’s Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales in Dosso Dossi’s Allegory of Music and Ockeghem’s Prenez sur moy in one of the intarsia of Isabelle d’Este’s grotta at the Ducal Palace in Mantua.
Last month also saw the publication of an essay on the role of Benedictines in the creation of songbooks in early 15th-century Italy, with three case studies from late medieval Bologna, Florence and Padua. My chapter started life as presentation given at the memorable Sources of Identity Conference convened by Lisa Colton and Tim Shephard at the University of Sheffield in 2013. In its final, more extended version, my study recognises that in addition to composing secular polyphonic songs, several Italian Benedictines (i.e. Benedictines from the Italian peninsula) were instrumental in the collection and preservation of secular songs and related polyphony around the year 1400. (Under Benedictines I include several reformed Italian orders too numerous to name here.) The essay includes further art historical evidence in support of my argument for the completion of the famous Modena A manuscript (Modena, Biblioteca Estense, ms. alpha.M.5.24) manuscript at Bologna in 1410-1411, and the early findings of a computer-assisted approach to music script analysis that supports expanding the role of Paduan Benedictine monk, Rolandus de Casale, in the copying of the so-called Paduan fragments (now in the University Library at Padua, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford) between 1406 and 1409. (Rolandus’s signing of his manuscripts is a curious feature from which I infer another conclusion about the nature of the Paduan fragments.) I also discuss Don Paolo Tenorista da Firenze’s position as a senior ecclesiastic and public figure in Florence, and his possible sponsorship and ownership of several books of Trecento polyphonic song in the first few decades of the 15th century. I intentionally avoid discussing (but list) other known Benedictine composers in any detail, although at Sheffield I spoke at some length on Bartolomeo da Bologna, composer and organist at Ferrara cathedral in the first two decades of the 15th century, and his possible role of in the cultivation of ars subtilior song. I hope to expand on this last topic in a future publication, along with further research into advanced music education in late medieval Italy: questions remain about where those Benedictines mentioned or discussed in my essay received their education, particularly in the craft of polyphony. In the monastery? The cathedral? Or elsewhere?
Stoessel, Jason. 2017. “The Makers and Owners of Early Fifteenth-Century Song Books in Italy: The Benedictine Contribution to the Courtly Musical Culture of the Late Middle Ages.” In Sources of Identity, edited by Lisa Colton and Tim Shephard, 77–96. Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN: 978-2-503-56778-5. Available for purchase from Brepols.
I’m delighted to be part of this collection of essays by a fantastic group of musicologists examining similar themes of music book production, ownership and use in the middle ages and early modern period. My chapter is dedicated to John Stinson who inspired my interest in the music of the ars subtilior more than a quarter century ago.
At last my article on the illuminator of the important early fifteenth-century music manuscript Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, ms. α.M.5.24, also known as Mod A has been published in the Journal of Musicology. I am little proud of this article since it is the result of several years of research and makes what I think is an important contribution to music history’s understanding of this manuscript, well at least part of it. I’m also humbled by the fact it benefited from considerably from comments and insightful reviews for several scholars. This article is by no means the end of the story when it comes to Mod A, its illuminator and this manuscript’s origin. Instead I hope that it will provoke other scholars to revisit this manuscript and indeed my conclusions. The reference and abstract for the article is as follows:
Stoessel, Jason. “Arms, a Saint and Inperial Sedendo fra più stelle: The Illuminator of Mod A.” Journal of Musicology 31/1 (2014): 1–42.
Scholars have proposed Milan, Pisa and/or Bologna as possible locations for the copying of the inner gatherings (II–IV) of the manuscript Modena, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, α.M.5.24 (Mod A) and have argued that some of the compositions might have originated in the circle of Archbishop of Milan Pietro Filargo. Yet evidence based on Mod A’s repertory and the scant biographies of its composers is insufficient for determining the manuscript’s origin. To solve this problem, I look at Mod A as a cultural artifact, attributing its illumination to the Master of 1411, an illuminator active in Bologna from 1404 to 1411, or to his assistant, both associated with the manuscript workshop of the Olivetan abbey of San Michele in Bosco, on the outskirts of medieval Bologna. The Master of 1411 might have been Giacomo da Padova, an illuminator documented there between 1407 and 1409. Iconographical analysis shows that the illuminator of Mod A possessed considerable knowledge of Paduan culture before the fall of the ruling Carrara family in 1405. This knowledge is apparent in his use of an astrological allusion to Carrara heraldry in his decoration of the song Inperial sedendo. His illumination of a Gloria by Egardus with the figure of Saint Anthony of Padua implies a familiarity with Padua’s musical institutions. Mod A may have been illuminated when the papal entourage of John XXIII visited San Michele in Bosco in the fall of 1410, although further compositions were added after the illuminator had finished his work. This conclusion invites scholars to consider afresh the social context that might have fostered the compilation of the repertory in the inner gatherings of Mod A.
The University of California Press has granted me permission to post a copy of my article on my personal website. Click here to download a copy of this article strictly for your own personal study. (Warning: links to an 8 MB PDF.) Any further use or redistribution of this file is not permitted.
It is always pleasantly surprising when serendipity throws up a little treasure for a musicologist, even when it is a well known cultural artefact. Recently my attention was drawn to the wonderful panel (painting) by Gentile da Fabriano (1370–1427), The Coronation of the Virgin, now owned by the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The Getty has provided an open-access, high resolution reproduction of this astonishing example of late medieval art which gleams with gold and textured surfaces (all the techniques that the next generation of renaissance artists eschewed). The panel shows the Virgin Mary being crowned as the Queen of Heaven by Christ. The dove hovering above the Virgin’s head represents the Holy Spirit. Continue reading “Gentile da Fabriano and the Getty Coronation of the Virgin”→