ABOUT MUSIC ICONOGRAPHY|
Visual sources are, as with written sources, important resources for music history and the study of its cultural and social contexts as well as being tools for the researcher interested in both the construction of musical instruments and the musical practices of the past. In addition they provide valuable information for other disciplines, such as history, art history, theology, literary history, archaeology and cultural studies.
Portrait of José Manuel Guerrero at the age of 17 years
José Guerrero, 1808
watercolor on ivory, 17.5 x 14.6 cm
Mexico: Museo Nacional de Historia, INAH
The discipline of music iconography has been established within the academic canon as an important and valid sub-discipline for the investigation of topics involved in the history of music generally providing a broader view of the history of music than may be established on the basis of written sources alone. Emanuel Winternitz – distinguished director of the musical instruments department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York from 1949-1973 – has emphasised the importance of visual documents by stating that a) visual sources often provide valuable information that written words cannot transmit and that b) visual documents can reveal information that authors of written sources neglect to mention since they either take it for granted or deliberately omit it because of cultural, ethical or religious restrictions in a certain time.1
Generally, visual documents significantly refine and differentiate the understanding one has gained on the basis of written sources alone. Hence visual documents are not only valuable with respect to music history research but also provide an integral part of any research that deals with the understanding of culture and society. This is proven by the increasing significance that the use of visual documents is gaining in history and cultural studies, for instance.2
The importance of visual sources cannot be overestimated taking into account that images actively participate in the shaping of identities and the understanding of past and present cultural and societal aspects. This notion has recently been emphasised in the writings of Vilém Flusser, William J. Thomas Mitchell and Gottfried Boehm who have explored the structuring character of images and subsequently effected a “pictorial” and “iconic” turn in the humanities.3
Music iconography research must work as an interdisciplinary venture as the meaning of a visual source with music subject matter can only be analysed by involvement with other disciplines, such as organology, art history, political and cultural history, sociology, archaeology, anthropology etc. In this respect RIdIM strongly sponsors and supports new models of knowledge acquisition as mirrored in the introduction of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies in academia within the last two decades.4
It is noteworthy that any research largely depends on access to and availability of source material. RIdIM is committed to providing these facilities by the development of a state-of-the-art database that fulfills a wide range of requirements by cataloguers and researchers. To this end RIdIM also supports and enforces network initiatives between cataloguers and researchers.
1 Emanuel Winternitz, “The Iconology of Music: Potential and Pitfalls“. In: Perspectives in Musicology. Ed. Barry S. Brook et al. New York: Norton, 1972, 80-90, here 80.
2 To name only a few of many recent publications with this respect: Peter Burke, The fabrication of Louis XIV. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press, 1992; Francis Haskall, History and Its Images: Art and Interpretation of the Past. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press, 1993; Richard I. Cohen, Jewish Icons: Art and Society in Modern Europe. Berkeley (CA) etc.: University of California Press, 1998; Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing. The Use of Images as Historical Evidence. Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell University Press, 2001; Bernd Roeck, Das historische Auge. Kunstwerke als Zeugen ihrer Zeit: Von der Renaissance zur Revolution. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004.
3 Vilém Flusser, Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie. Göttingen: European Photography, 1999 (9th ed.); William J. Thomas Mitchell, The Language of Images. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 1980, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 1986, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 1994. What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago (IL): University of Chicago Press, 2005; and Gottfried Boehm (Ed.), Was ist ein Bild? Munich: W. Fink, 2001 (3rd ed.).
4 Antonio Baldassarre, "Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale (RIdIM): Three years of new activities", in: Fontes Artis Musicae, vol. 55, no. 1 (2008), 51-52 (4 columns), and Music Iconography: What is it all about? Some remarks and considerations with a selected bibliography, in: Ictus, vol. 9, No. 2 (2008), 55-95.
Association Répertoire International d'Iconographie Musicale, Badergasse 9, CH-8001 Zurich