Painting music – In the antiquity

The visual representation of music, sounds, musicians and singers, throughout history has always been linked to the musical style, and also, the instruments of its time. It has been an important topic of inspiration. In this post we will see music in ancient painting. And the next topic will be Music in contemporary painting.

musicians and dancers.

Pintura egipcia con músicos y bailarines.

It is a pictorial subject that has been used a lot in ancient times. Music idea contains beauty on its own and so do musical artists.

However, it is an issue that can leave some dissatisfaction.

How to make a static image express sounds, musicality and even make us feel the same as a melody would make us feel?

The only topic I’ve written on this before is Kandinsky’s: Vasíli Kandinsky and the music

However, as it is modern abstract painting, it depends on the spectator sensitivity to see the musicality in Kandinsky’s or Klee’s art works.

As regards figurative painting, It seems that there are basically the following elements to represent the music.

  • Paint the musicians and singers.
  • Paint the instruments. I consider this method to be the poorest because, although it can be very decorative, the instruments by themselves do not generate rhythms or connote their own sounds.
  • Paint rhythms, linearities, visual effects that connote the sensations of the music itself. In this method, the excess of abstraction causes the representation to be lost, although it can be much more “sonorous”.

Perhaps the best form, or the one that generates the most music sensation, is a mixture of all three elements.

A little historical tour will give us some ideas.

Painting music in ancient times

In ancient times, most of the painted works are always the musicians with their instruments, such as flutes, guitars or old lutes, drums, etc. They are usually simple graphic styles, such as illustrations, both in Japan, Egypt, Greece and Rome, among others.

Music of Iran
Painting with Music of Iran

Music of Iran. Image from Hasht-Behesht Palace painting, Isfahan, Iran, from 1669.

“A Taoist Playing a Bamboo Flute”, by Kim Hong Do (1747-1806). A more modern work but with the Japanese style.

The representation of music in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, of course, music and painting were closely linked to religion. An example are these angels.

Musician angels
Musician angels

Hans Memling (1433–1494). Angels Musicians (Angel Musicians) of 1480. Oil on panel. 165 cm x 230 cm. Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.

Music and painting in the baroque

Adolph Menzel painting
Adolph Menzel painting

Flute Concert with Frederick the Great at Sanssouci, by Adolph Menzel (1815–1905). More about chamber music from that time can be found in the Wikipedia.

Romantic and Post-Raphaelite Music and Painting

The representation of Music and Literature was very present in romantic painting as they were a great source of inspiration.

Pastoral by Rupert Bunny
Pastoral by Rupert Bunny

Pastoral by Rupert Bunny, painted in 1893. Detail of the work.

Music, by Santiago Rusiñol
Music, by Santiago Rusiñol

Music, by Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1930). With the idea of combining music, poetry and painting, the Catalan painter created this beautiful work. The style is pre-Raphaelite. Pre-Raphaelite artists did some similar works, with musicians – poets. The painting also shows the gardens that he loved to paint so much, so that it unites nature with music, poetry and the beauty of a woman.

Caricature with Liszt
Drawing Caricature with Liszt

The French cartoonist named Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon – 1820-1910) drew the composer Liszt in this work together with other musicians and composers. The influence that this great composer exerted in his time was well recognized.

From the avant-garde to the present

The Violinist by Marc Chagall
Painting The Violinist by Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall’s violinist, recalls the works of Tchaikovsky, where the romantic violin made the melodies. Chagall’s musician flies to his music and escapes through the window. Chagall knew very well how to turn ideas into poetry and did not paint a simple musician but a more dreamy one.

The concert, by János Kmetty
Painting The concert, by János Kmetty

The concert, by János Kmetty. An artist from Hungary, he lived from 1889 to 1975.

Raoul Dufy, orchestra
Raoul Dufy, the orchestra painting

Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953) painted this orchestra with soloist at piano and choir. This painter is very surprising and has a great variety of themes, although music and poetry stand out in his works. With his technique of tempera and watercolors he made very complete works, managing to represent his ideas with a modern style.

In the next topic I will address the pictorial styles that deal with the subject of music today. Contemporary artists also draw their inspiration from current musicians.

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