The belief that music and art are inextricable parts of each other is not something new. In fact, the phrase “music is art” epitomizes how music was regarded by people in centuries gone by. Michelangelo’s painting Caravaggio (1571-1610) portrays that not only music was art, it was a revered form of art.

music and art

The Lute Player (1626) by Valentin de Boulogne

There is a small exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, titled, “Painting Music in the Age of Caravaggio,” shows how the 3 paintings on musical performances that they have on display are majestically visual as well as aural. The paintings are — The Lute Player (1626) by Valentin de Boulogne, Allegory of Music (1649) by Laurent de La Hyre and The Musicians (1595) by Caravaggio. This exhibition wants to emphasize on one question only – what did people hear in their minds when they looked at these paintings? What’s the connection between music and art?

The museum has created an installation which showcases the instruments painted in the paintings (taken from their vast history section) to emphasize on that point. And when people walk through a motion detector, tracks of two lute compositions performed on vintage instruments are played. The point of this entire exercise is to combine audible examples with the visual representations of music. The first painting that visitors get to see as an amalgamation of music and art is Boulogne’s “Lute Player”. A lot of people say it was supposed to be a self portrait, but one can never be sure.

Adjacent to this painting is a glass display of a lute which is very similar to the one painted in the Lute Player. It states under the lute that it belonged to Wendelin Tieffenbrucker, and one can see its sound holes having delicately pierced roses. You can hear this very lute being played on one of the tracks playing the music. The next painting you get to view is “Allegory of Music” which features a beautiful lady tuning a theorbo (belonging to the lute family). A lot more Baroque instruments are featured in the painting, including two ivory flageolets, another lute, a bass recorder or a shawm (not sure), a violin with one broken string and an organ case. By the side, you can go through an open book which takes you through a journey of music and art by including lute tablature and vocal music literature.

The Musicians (1595) by Caravaggio

The Musicians (1595) by Caravaggio

If you move around the gallery, you will notice that counterparts of musical instruments featured in the painting are on display, all except the organ. Perhaps the most beautiful of the entire lot would be Cremona maker Nicolò Amati’s 1669 violin. Moving further, you come across the generic scene on display on Caravaggio’s “Musicians”. It shows 4 boys in different poses, out of which 3 boys have a direct link with music (they’re all holding different musical instruments). One of the boys has his mouth open (because he’s singing) while holding an instrument called a cornett. One is holding a lute while the third is overlooking a very short violin place majestically on a pile of books.

Music is an art which used be revered not so long ago. What happened to the relationship between music and art today? Has it all but vanished?  The Metropolitan Museum of Art wants to beg otherwise