Myself when Young: Becoming a Musician in Renaissance Italy—or Not

Bonnie J. Blackburn

in Proceedings of the British Academy Volume 181, 2010-2011 Lectures

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265277
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754203 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Myself when Young: Becoming a Musician in Renaissance Italy—or Not

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Social and Cultural History


Show Summary Details


In his Lives, Giorgio Vasari mentions many artists who were talented at music when they were young, prominently Giorgione and Sebastiano del Piombo. Benvenuto Cellini resisted his father's pressure to choose music. Why? How rewarding was a musical profession in Renaissance Italy? It could be very lucrative, both for town musicians such as Cellini's father and for castratos. Moonlighting for banquets, dances, even spying, could bring in additional income. For gentlemen, music was a necessary social grace; they had private tutors, such as Silvestro Ganassi dal Fontego, who was himself a painter as well as a printer. Amateurs could learn from cathedral choirmasters, who were often music theorists, the pinnacle of the profession. The theorist Pietro Aaron, choirmaster at Imola Cathedral, then tutor to the sons of Sebastian Michiel, Grand Prior of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in Venice, had a wide acquaintance among humanists, noblemen and other musicians, and his letters open a window on the life of a musician. Among his many professions, the writer Antonfrancesco Doni counted music; a madrigal he wrote in 1560 is included in an appendix. The ability to improvise verses and music was much prized, ranging from star performers such as Serafino Aquilano to amateurs such as Niccolò Machiavelli. Portraits of musicians are discussed; they offer important evidence but are difficult to interpret. The theorist Lodovico Zacconi concluded in 1592 that being a musician was not only an honourable and lucrative profession but an enjoyable one.

Keywords: artists as musicians; portraits of musicians; gentlemen musicians; musical careers; improvisers; music schools; castrati

Chapter.  12760 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at British Academy »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.