Keyboard Instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Keyboard Instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Keyboard Instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Keyboard Instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Excerpt

Riccho son doro · et, riccho son di svono,
Non mi sonar si tv non ha del bvono.
"Rich am I in gold and rich am I in tone:
If thy music be not noble, then leave my keys alone."
Inscription on a spinettino made for Eleonora d'Este

AMONG THE most complex and intriguing of all artifacts are musical instruments, for they please both eye and ear. They are technical contrivances for producing sound and are subject to the stern laws of physics and acoustics as well as to the ever-changing phases in the evolution of musical thought. As decorative objects, often designed as furniture, they also reflect the changes in visual taste throughout history. This is one of the reasons why collections of musical instruments find their logical place among the various objects, many of them also tools, in an art museum devoted to the systematic interpretation of past cultures through the display of their artifacts. Musical instruments represent one of the many threads in that dense contrapuntal fabric called civilization.

The Middle Ages conceived of music as one of the noble sisters of the quadrivium, together with what today we consider sciences: arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Later a gradual transformation took place, and Pollaiuolo's pairing of an allegory of music with one of linear perspective on the tomb of Pope Sixtus IV is symptomatic of the new role of music as one of the "creative" arts. It is significant that in the trompe-l'oeil intarsias of the quattrocento study of Federigo da Montefeltro from his palace in Gubbio (now in the Metropolitan Museum) musical instruments play a predominant role among the many tools of the arts and sciences of his time. The fifteenth century also witnessed the growth of the first systematic collections of musical instruments. In the sixteenth, the intertwining of music and the visual arts was reflected in special collections of musical instruments that were prized not only as specimens of ingenious craftsmanship but also as objects of refined beauty. These instrument museums were distinct from the Musikkammern, in which were kept the instruments regularly needed for actual performance; the museums comprehended those regarded as rarities, antiquities, or . . .

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