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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

'Hidden Behind Some Obscurity': Musical Expertise and Visual Puzzles in Italy ca.1500

17th November 2015, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Dr Tim Shepherd, University of Sheffield

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Openness and Secrecy seminar series for 2015/16. Please note that places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

To book your place click here. 

Abstract: Elite Italian writers of the 15th and early 16th centuries describe musical 'expertise' as a complex and difficult sphere of knowledge, embracing mathematics as well as its supposed embodiment in compositional techniques and executive skill; and yet they regard the possession of such expertise as essential to the proper judgement of musical performance. The 'hidden' nature of musical expertise is nowhere better exemplified than in the technique of canon, described in a late 15th-century musical dictionary as 'a rule showing the purpose of the composer behind some obscurity'. Taking the simultaneous obscurity and desirability of musical expertise as its starting point, this paper will examine two related images - one from the studiolo of Alfonso I d'Este and one from that of his sister Isabella - which require of the viewer an application of musical expertise to unlock their hidden meanings. Through the musical challenge that these two images pose to their viewers, the images and the process of viewing them form in effect two allegories of musical judgement - one normative and one transgressive - which reveal the importance and ambivalence of the concept of 'judgement' within contemporary musical culture.

Dr Tim Shephard is a Lecturer in Musicology at the University of Sheffield, and holds a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Centre for Music, Gender and Identity, University of Huddersfield. He is co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Music and Visual Culture (2013), and author of Echoing Helicon: Music, Art and Identity in the Este Studioli (OUP, 2014) as well as numerous journal articles. He is Principle Investigator on the three-year Leverhulme-funded project 'Music in the Art of Renaissance Italy, ca.1420-1540'.

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