Seduction and Spirituality: The Ambiguous Roles of Music in Venetian Art


in The Music Room in Early Modern France and Italy

Published by British Academy

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265055
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754166 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Seduction and Spirituality: The Ambiguous Roles of Music in Venetian Art

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This chapter examines the tensions between the sacred and profane in attitudes towards the art of music as manifested in Venetian Renaissance painting. Choirs of pious music-making angels playing a variety of musical instruments were a notable feature of Venetian altarpieces from the fourteenth century on. And yet, by the early years of the sixteenth century, these concerts of sacred music were eclipsed by secular images of flute-playing shepherds and lute-strumming youths. While household inventories tell us that musical instruments played a central role in family congeniality, paintings of the time also associate musical performance with ladies of dubious respectability. Thus, while music was treasured for its spiritual enlightenment and contribution to refined domesticity, it was also suspect because of its seductive sensuality.

Keywords: Venetian Renaissance painting; Venice; Renaissance; musicians; courtesans; women; musical instruments

Chapter.  5918 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Opera

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