An Enlivened Renaissance Music Program with ties to Historic Rosen House Artwork
With this post, we share details about two lesser-known artworks in the Rosen collection that relate closely to the musical program.
Audience members attending the performance by Iestyn Davies and Thomas Dunford on November 20 will be time traveling, not only through the music they hear, but through the setting of the Music Room at the Rosen House as well. Many of the artworks and architectural features in the room date to the lifetimes of the composers on the evening’s program: John Dowland (English, 1563 – 1626), Pierre Guédron (French, 1570 – 1620), Giovanni Kapsberger (Italian, 1580 – 1651) and those whose names are now lost. Be sure to take a peek at the coffered ceiling in the Spanish Alcove before the concert. In their original setting in a castle outside of Toledo, Spain, the carved and painted beams could easily have sheltered musicians performing “Vuestros Ojos” or “Passava Amor” and listeners held rapt by the rhythm of these pieces.
The archlute Mr. Dunford will play serves as another connection to the Renaissance period, when music flourished in the domestic settings of Europe, made possible by the craftsmen producing a wide range of instruments and the printers publishing written music. Churches and palaces were no longer the only place to hear music, as instruments of all types reached a wider public. One workshop making lutes in Venice in 1581 produced dozenali (inexpensive instruments) as well as liuti de prezio (those made with rare materials or custom designs). As people of all social levels owned and played instruments like lutes, violins, flutes and harpsichords, these objects became part of everyday domestic material culture. *
Images of lutes are part of everyday material culture in the Rosen collection too. Two special examples tie into this particular theme. The first of these appears on one of the bookcases in the Spanish Alcove (as you look into the Alcove, it’s on the right side in the back near the game table). These bookcases are an amalgamation of elements, some 16th-century carved sections with some 20th-century elements. The antique carved details give the furniture the look and feel of great age.
On the far side of the bookcase, a female figure stands out. Carved by an English or perhaps a German artisan, this courtly lady wears the formal garments of the late 1500s; a wide skirt known as a farthingale, the stiff lace collar supported by wires framing the face, and a high towering hairstyle. Notable too is the instrument she is holding: the distinctive round body of a lute, in this case, with a short, straight neck (odd, but perhaps less fragile in the finished carving). She is a figure that John Dowland would have recognized and represents the women and men who learned to play his printed compositions for the lute.
Similarly, the Italian or English embroiderer who stitched these angels drew upon earthly experience to depict the figures playing clearly identifiable lutes. Like the bookcases, this object is made up of materials of different ages. An unknown maker applied 17th-century embroidery to 20th-century red velvet, turning what may have been remnants into a functional evening bag with one angel on each side. Although some of the details of the angels’ faces and hands have been lost, the untarnished metallic threads give this piece a special glimmer. The piece is part of Mrs. Rosen’s collection of garments and accessories, and she may have worn it to performances in the Music Room and beyond.
See Iestyn Davies, countertenor, and Thomas Dunford, lute, perform on Sunday November 20 at 3:00 pm. Learn more here.
*For more information, we recommend Flora Dennis’s chapter “Music” in At Home in Renaissance Italy (London: V&A Publications, 2006).