Envisioning Music in Early Jewish Books: Exposition, Development, Recapitulation

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


Musical images in artworks produced during the late Middle Ages and early modern period have long been primary period-specific sources when seeking information about pre-modern performance practices and the organology of musical instruments used in earlier eras. Yet we cannot assume that depictions of music-making and instruments in pre-modern illustrations were accurate representations of actual musical practice or intended to be so. Consideration of the social purpose of such images, as well as the implicit and explicit meaning or symbolism of musical sound when contextualised in a given pictorial frame for a specific audience, has come to occupy centre-stage in the contemporary study of musical iconography. Martine Clouzot has argued that images of music-making, understood in their cultural and social context, constitute a form of “iconographic listening” in which sensory interplay occurs between the reading of an illustrated page and the process of imagined, associative hearing in the mind of the reader. Yet, as Richard Leppert observes, the representation of music in art “translates the three-dimensional and sonoric world into a two-dimensional and silent argument for and about the world…. Reference to music occurs in visual art not because musical sound exists but because musical sound has meaning…. The way of seeing hence incorporates the way of hearing: the artist must produce images in such a way that their meanings will be congruent with those produced by sight and sound together in the lived experience of the original and intended viewer.” Using these theoretical viewpoints as a point of departure, my paper will explore the subjects, form and contexts of musical iconography in early Jewish books, and the recapitulation of musical motifs that appear across temporal and geographical boundaries from the late Middle Ages into the early modern era, examining their continuity and discontinuity. It will explore how pictorial representations of music in Jewish books—explicitly or implicitly—may serve as both signifiers of Jewish identity and evidence of Jewish-Christian interactions in musical and visual cultures.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020
EventOSAJS Between Sacred and Profane - Jewish Musical Cultures in Early Modern Europe - Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Mar 202017 Mar 2020


ConferenceOSAJS Between Sacred and Profane - Jewish Musical Cultures in Early Modern Europe
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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