Musical instruments in artOn September 12, 2019 by Miriam Delorenzo
Access to museums via the Internet is a milestone that has long been achieved, thanks to the consultation of automated catalogs, which are increasingly more data and more accurate. And its dissemination through the networks as well. But museum technicians, when we visit other museums, we cannot avoid looking for parallels and, if there are any, we imagine what the dialogue between the different pieces could be.
Music in thematic dialogues: beasts, clothes, painting
At the Museu de la Música, for years we have dedicated every Friday of the first half of the year to a digital project that allows us to get to know our collections -and sometimes those of other museums- from the net, with a different perspective to that offered by the catalogs or the permanent exhibition.
One example is #Divendresbèsties, which collected all the instruments of the museum that were related to animals, either by the materials, the shape or because they had them drawn, or #DivenDress, a dialogue between pieces of clothing and musical instruments in a historical, social and musical context.
A visit to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in 2015, entertaining ourselves in looking for instruments -when we still didn’t know that this research would be a project- and a conference by Jordi Ballester on musical iconography built what has ended up being a dialogue between the two museums, under the title #quenipintat. The question that Ballester himself asked gave us the basis for everything: “Why do musical instruments appear in the paintings?
Shaping the musical world before sound recording
Music is immaterial and sound recordings are a late technology, except for some spiked cylinder invention, which was not developed until the end of the 19th century. Therefore, if the music was not live, it did not exist.
The fact that a painter made an instrument appear, or a group of instruments or musicians, was the best way of insinuating what the “musical thread” of that particular scene, of that time, could be, and, moreover, it is one of the few ways we have, the iconography -or that someone wrote about music- of reaching the musical world before the sound recording.
Musical instruments in the paintings: how have we worked?
Now, here comes the dialogue: the instruments you painted, were they really like that? Through the #quenipintat project, we have sought to compare an iconographic selection from the collection of the Museu Nacional – 26 works of art with texts, of the almost 60 in which we could observe musical instruments -, in a more or less prominent way, showing in parallel real instruments, from the collection of the Museu de la Música de Barcelona, and always trying to coincide chronologically or, on rare occasions, later facsimile instruments.
Once the idea took shape, we began a selection of instruments that would match the works of art, and both the collections department and the management of the Museu de la Música made a preliminary evaluation of them, since it has not always been easy to discern exactly which instrument was represented.
The second filter and content analysis was already done with the professor and iconography specialist Jordi Ballester, who has offered us over the months some very valuable texts that are the third important basis of the project. Then the collections team and the network team of the Museu Nacional joined in, with whom we just defined the list (they gave us more works that we didn’t know!) and we discussed how these publications could be.
Apart from renewing our view of what we think we know, our main objective was to observe the similarities and differences and to detect what impact an instrument can have on an art that, precisely, is not heard. In each case, we have tried to highlight a detail, a curiosity, an organological “unreality”, a context.
As curious examples, we have found a small buccén (trombone) “playing as a dog” on a poster, a harpsichord with an inverted case, or a cleat built by Pau Orriols, inspired by the painting he used in tandem:
Finally, the #quenipintat (“not even painted”) has consisted of pairs of paintings/objects plus tools, which we have published on various social networks, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and we have been adding it in parallel to Pinterest. Regarding Twitter, taking into account the length of the texts, is where perhaps the reading has been more uncomfortable, but it has been where every week we have asked our followers what music each tandem suggested, which has resulted in this playlist on the Spotify platform.
Through the texts proposed by Jordi Ballester we have rediscovered the bibliography on musical iconography available in the library. And there has been a reverse process that has been even more interesting for us: every week, the team at the Museu Nacional has added to its catalog the labels with the names of the instruments we have talked about so that now, if we look for instruments but don’t remember the name of the author or the work, we will manage to find them!
The collections teams of the two museums, and the support, information and accompaniment from the first day of the digital content team of the Museu Nacional, Conxa Rodà, Anna Ponce and Montse Gumà. A good example of collaborative work between institutions.