John Stinson, PhD Candidate, School of Arts, UNE, will present in the 2017 School of Arts Research Seminar series on Thursday, 14 September 2017, between 12.00 pm  and 1.00 pm in Arts Lecture Theatre 2 (A2), Arts Building (E11).

Title: Angels and Their Music in Florentine Trecento Painting: A Study of Images and the Function of the Objects on Which They Were Painted

Photo of John Stinson

The meaning of musical instruments in Florentine trecento painting has been disputed over the last 50 years. Some musicologists have rejected their relevance to the performance of contemporary music; some art historians have derived the origin of the image from literary sources, both ancient (the late fifth-century Neoplatonist Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopogite, proponent of the hierarchy of angels), relatively recent (Jacobus of Voragine’s Golden Legend, c. 1260) or modern (Dante’s Divina Commedia 1308–1320). In spite of extensive documentation in payment records to musicians and descriptions by contemporary chroniclers of actual performances, there remains some scepticism about the use of these instruments in the performance of trecento music, and especially their use in performing the textless voices in ballate, madrigali and cacce.

For a previous presentation I surveyed all of the surviving paintings by Florentine trecento artists and distinguished four categories of musical iconography: biblical scenes, iconic images, allegorical images and representations of probable actual performances. This paper will examine one of the iconic images, the Maestà, which, along with the Coronation of the Virgin, was the preferred subject of trecento altarpieces. I will argue that this ancient Byzantine image had a particular significance in fourteenth-century Florence. Of the 400 paintings surveyed, 105 represent biblical scenes, 246 are iconic images (148 of the Maestà), which were the centre of the new devotional practice of singing laude before an image of the Virgin. It is this devotional practice, introduced into Florence in 1244 and which flourished well into the sixteenth century, that provides the context for interpreting the images.

My examination will focus on the function of the object onto which these images are painted. I will argue that virtually all the altarpieces have been decontextualized from their trecento settings; many have been dismembered, as artistic value has superseded Marian devotion; and notions of orthodoxy and heresy have receded into the quaint vocabulary of political correctness.


To see upcoming seminars in 2017, please visit the Seminars & Public Lectures page.