Wednesday, February 10, 2016

LUCA DELLA ROBBIA's CANTORIA

LUCA DELLA ROBBIA's CANTORIA -  THE SCROLL AND THE CODEX  
PSALM 150 -


Praise ye the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary:
Praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts:
Praise him according to his excellent greatness.
  
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
Praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel 

And dance:
Praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals:
Praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
 

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord.

In 1430's Florence, Italy, the inside of the Cathedral was being decorated as Brunelleschi's dome was going up. Marble organ covers were planned for decoration over the doors of both sacristies, the New or North Sacristy (also called the Sacristy of the Masses)(here on left) and the Old or South Sacristy (here on right, called the Sacristy of the Canons.) 

For the documents on the Cantorie, see Luisa Becherucci and Giulia Brunetti, Il Museo dell'Opera del Duomo,1971, 2 vols., Electa, in Italian. (The marble balconies plus organs you see today are 17th century replacements.
Luca della Robbia carves the organ cover for the New or North Sacristy between 1431 and 1439. 

For it he uses the Latin inscription of Psalm 150 from the Old Testament, the Psalm we began with here.  His interpretation of the Psalm is a literal one. He places the words of the Psalm directly above and underneath 8 nearly square panels across the front of the organ console in two layers (visible here) and adds 2 panels on the sides (not visible in this photo.) He sculpts images that correspond exactly to the words below them. (Since the console was dismantled in 1688 for a Medici wedding, some sections of the first line of the inscription went missing, but they have been abbreviated to fit by modern reconstructors.) All of the second and third Latin lines referring to musical instruments correspond to their sculpted illustrations and are original to Luca's console.

In order to understand how Luca conjoined word and image for the Psalm, we will reproduce the Psalm's words three times: 
1) the abbreviated Latin version actually on the organ cover console
2) the original Latin of the Psalm from the Vulgate Bible, changing V's to U's
3) the English translation of the Latin text (from the King James Version of the Bible with variations)
When the viewer goes to see the originals in the new Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence, it will help to have all three wordings to grasp the artist's intent in sculpting the figures and their instruments.

The first line on the top rim of the console is a general praising of God in the world and has no corresponding sculptures:

 1)LAVDATE DNM IN SCIS EI                   LAVDATE EVM IN FIRMAMENTO VIRTVTIS EI PAEV IN VIRTVTIBVS EI          PAEV SECVNDVM MVLTITVDINEM MAGNITVDINIS EIVS

2)LAUDATE DOMINUM IN SANCTIS EIUS        LAUDATE EUM IN FIRMAMENTO VIRTUTIS EIUS  LAUDATE EUM IN VIRTUTIBUS EIUS  LAUDATE EUM SECUNDUM MULTITUDINEM MAGNITUDINIS EIUS                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3) PRAISE GOD IN HIS SANCTUARY  PRAISE HIM IN THE FIRMAMENT OF HIS POWER        

PRAISE HIM FOR HIS MIGHTY ACTS          PRAISE HIM ACCORDING TO HIS EXCELLENT GREATNESS


The second line in the middle of the console begins the praising of God with specific sounds:


1)LAVDATE EVM IN SONO TVBAE:    LAVDATE EVM IN PSALTERIO ET CYTHARA LAVDATE EVM IN TIMPANO

2)LAUDATE EUM IN SONO TUBAE:   LAUDATE EUM IN PSALTERIO ET CYTHARA     LAUDATE EUM IN TIMPANO

3)PRAISE HIM WITH THE SOUND OF THE TRUMPET    PRAISE HIM WITH PSALTERY AND CITTERN    PRAISE HIM WITH THE TIMBREL and PIPES

These correspond to panels showing each of the instruments mentioned.

The third line at the bottom of the console continues the praising of God in various ways:

1)  ET CHORO      PA EV  IN CORDIS ET ORGANO     PAEV IN CIMBALIS BENE SONATIBVS PAEV IN CIMBALIS IVBILATIONIS

2) ET CHORO        LAUDATE EUM IN CORDIS ET ORGANO  LAUDATE EUM IN CIMBALIS BENE SONATIBUS  LAUDATE EUM IN CIMBALIS IUBILATIONIS

3)AND DANCE   PRAISE HIM WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS AND ORGAN   PRAISE HIM UPON THE LOUD CYMBALS (TAMBOURINES):  PRAISE HIM UPON THE HIGH-SOUNDING CYMBALS (CLASHING CYMBALS.)



 The last words of the 3rd line on the organ cover refer to the side panels showing singers:
1) OIS       SPS            LAVDET DNM
2) OMNIS SPIRITUS LAUDET DOMINUM
3)LET EVERY THING THAT HATH BREATH  PRAISE THE LORD

ALLELULIA in LATIN VULGATE, at beginning and end - NOT INSCRIBED ON THE CANTORIA
PRAISE YE THE LORD at beginning and end of King James Version

Now to the illustrations he carves for this Old Testament praise of God.
Both rows of square panels show exactly the instruments mentioned:

              TRUMPETS   PSALTERIES      CITTERNS    PIPE & DRUM
 Sono  TUBAE            PSALTERIO        CYTHARA       TIMPANO



DANCE  Strings & Portable ORGAN  TAMBOURINES       CYMBALS 

CHORO  CORDIS & ORGANO   Cymbalis bene sonatibus/iubilationis




Above SONO TUBAE (sound of trumpets) he sets out a relief of trumpeters and children dancing underneath them:
 







 

 The children in motion below are not holding up the trumpets as one critic has suggested; they are making an arm arch for other children to dance under and through. A lively scene to show the joy of the trumpets' sound.






Next right in that row are the panels of 


PSALTERY                                                        and                CITTERN:
 

 The cythara of the Latin (right panel)should actually be translated as "CITTERN" (a lute-like instrument that is strummed or plucked, as seen in the sculpture), not as harp, as it is in the King James version.








The last panel shows the TIMPANO -TIMBREL (drums), as well as, in this case, a PIPER:
 
The quieter tones of the instruments in the middle two panels (psaltery, cittern) are bracketed by the
louder, more jubilant tones of the instruments in the end panels of this row, trumpets and drums. The psalteries here are like our zithers or dulcimers, the citterns a type of flat-backed lute.
 









In all of Luca's sculptures the figures are teenagers or children, not adults. The figures react to the music with gestures and dances. Some of the instrumentalists and dancers also sing.

In the lower row of square panels of the same size, the text is illustrated verbatim by the images, too:
ET CHORO (and DANCE) has a circle dance of young children:
Next come the portable ORGAN - ORGANO and LUTE (CORDIS) (there IS also a HARP in this image, another stringed instrument):

Then the two types of CIMBALIS - CYMBALS: 
 TAMBOURINES                             and clashing CYMBALS.
 
The words in Latin at the end of the Psalm that mention the spirit are illustrated in the side panels of singers in groups, the groups where breath is paramount. 

On the left side panel, the one that would have faced the congregation in the Duomo, we see a group of boy choristers singing from a BOOK, both younger boy sopranos and adolescents whose voices may have changed:
 
In keeping with Luca's wish to convey reality, the older boys are bullying the younger ones;
they've made them hold the book, keep time with their feet, and they are pulling their hair.
One only has to look at the expressions on the faces of the younger boys to see the pain
that is being inflicted as they sing. Not an idealized view but a view of the groups of youngsters whom Luca may have seen actually singing psalms during his lifetime, a realistic version of the activities that kept teenage boys from more ruinous engagements.

The righthand side panel is a little more harmonious, but not entirely: 
The boys who are concentrating on the ending of the song on the scroll frown to make the
harmony correct; the boy to their right, carved in lower relief, puts his hand to his face, as
if to object either to the disharmony or to the long time he's had to wait until the end of the
singing. "Finish up soon!" he seems to be saying with his eyes and mouth. Luca's direct observations of human and childlike behavior are presented within the context of a hymn of praise for God. He suggests, not that humans are mirrors of God's perfection but rather, that they praise God in the imperfect ways that they can, with hopes that their performances will be acceptable. The SPIRITUS (spirit, breath) implied in the singers open mouths in both panels refers to the last kind of praise mentioned in the Psalm, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord."
       Luca's conscious choices to represent imperfect anecdotes as well as scenes of purely innocent joy are what make his images of music-makers so appealing.  The children dance and sing to tunes that the 15th-century audience would have heard actually or in their minds as they looked at the images. He conjures up music as he writes out on his console the BOOK with words and illustrations, much like a modern children's book, or like a Renaissance Laudario or Psaltery, book of Psalms with music. The fact that he also chooses as bookend images on the console a group with a CODEX, or book, and a group with a SCROLL, is also very telling.
      Luca wants the viewer to understand the two kinds of ways that music and words are conveyed in the church of his day: with the CODEX and with the SCROLL (Italian libro and rotulo). Quattrocento (15th-century) codices of collections of Psalms, together with music for the words, still exist in libraries in Florence (my thanks to Prof. Marica S. Tacconi for her profound knowledge of the musical archives); some of these codices are quite fancy, produced on the occasion of special church events, like the two Psalteries made for the 1439 Council of the Churches in Florence around the same time that the Cantoria was finished. (Tacconi's article in the volume Make a Joyful Noise, Renaissance Art and Music at Florence Cathedral, p. 74.) While I cannot reproduce those particular codices, here are two pages from illuminated musical manuscripts from Florence before the 1430's, the one on the left in the Morgan Library:
 
Both Professor Tacconi and Professor Blake Wilson (see his 1992 Oxford book, Music and Merchants:  the Laudesi Companies of Republican Florence) have kindly told me in emails that NO SCROLLS from the period survive in Florence. Presumably scrolls were made of less permanent parchment or paper and were disposable. But Professor Wilson's expertise has turned up two painted images of angels singing from scrolls in 1429 organ covers made for Orsanmichele by an artist named Francesco d'Antonio (see pp. 160-161 for both reproductions in his article, "If Monuments Could Sing," in Orsanmichele and the History and Preservation of the Civic Monument, Yale, 2012.) 
  My thanks also to Professor Fabrizio Lelli for mentioning an article about a Bolognese Hebrew parchment scroll from the 14th century, however, which exists in a library in Bologna: Rita De Tata, L’occhio dello studioso e la lente del bibliotecario. Breve storia del rotulo ebraico della Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna in “Quaderni di Storia” 8, 2014, Giugno-dicembre, pp. 189-215. (The fact that all the Renaissance Hebraic scrolls from the Florence Sinagogue were lost in the flood of 1966 makes the Bologna scroll that much more precious.)
   An interesting later example of angels singing with a scroll occurs in Domenico Ghirlandaio's Nativity painted for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence around 1485:

 
    The representation of a SCROLL on Luca's organ cover is there for three reasons:

1) to suggest contemporary practice of the choirs of the Laudesi (praise singers) in Florence,
groups of boys formed to sing lauds and psalms in private group encounters in church halls and chapter meeting houses, where lauds and psalms written on various materials were used for practice and performance. (See Prof. Blake Wilson's fascinating and thorough Laudesi book.)
2) to suggest the OLD TESTAMENT from which Psalm 150 has been taken. The use of Torah scrolls
in Hebrew for singing in Jewish Synagogues still is current practice
and although these youths carved by Luca are presumably singing Latin rather than Hebrew (otherwise he would be representing the beginning of the Psalm read from right to left in Hebrew, something astutely pointed out to me by Lionella Viterbo, and it seems clear the boys are all finishing a song with loud emphasis here), the placement of a scroll as well as a codex still refers to the ancient practice of singing praise to God that was begun in the Jewish theological tradition. The OLD way is implied here by the SCROLL, as it is in 15th-century Italian representations of prophets, here one by Donatello. The original language of the Psalm 150 was Hebrew after all.


3) to set up the division between the Cantoria above the left sacristy and that above the right one.
As we have pointed out, Luca's Cantoria reads like a BOOK, with the separate panels representing
the PAGES of a CODEX, and with the WORDS of the BOOK set below the illustrations as in 15th-century manuscripts produced in codex form. (In the documents his panels are referred to as "storias," stories.)

The next blog entry will treat Donatello's Cantoria (1433-39), which reads like a SCROLL, with the words continuing without page division from one line to the next, along a long expanding opening in which the illustration IS the text and in which the illustrations cascade from one image to the next. (In the documents Donatello's figures are referred to as "spiritellis".)

     Did Luca and Donatello agree on the division beforehand?  Is Luca pointing out in visual terms an arrangement drawn up with Donatello, that the one artist will produce an organ cover that resembles a CODEX and one will produce a cover that resembles a SCROLL?  The arrangement is unmentioned in the documents that have survived, where the organ covers are referred to as "PERGHAMI," (interestingly, a word derived from the same root as the word parchment, from Pergamon, where the first manuscripts using animal skins were made in the 2nd century B.C. in a year when papyrus was under embargo from Egypt.) 
     Luca knows Donatello's Cantoria will follow his, chronologically, and he feels in competition with the older and more experienced artist. Luca's work carved after 1433, when Donatello begins his images, seems to react to Donatello's Cantoria dancers; Luca includes more figures in motion and more figures in dancing scenes in his later more complex panels. (A discussion about the order in which Luca's panels were done will require another blog entry.)
     Luca presents the Psalm 150 in the most literal correspondence with the text, and he knows his images might be seen by viewers as still and boring because they are merely copying the words.

He wants his audience to know that the division is agreed upon beforehand, hence the CODEX and the SCROLL.
          The linking of arms over the shoulders of the singers in the SCROLL panel, though, intimates the physical joining of purpose the two artists maintained in their projects displayed in the same place at the same height with the same dimensions and across from one another.  Luca della Robbia and Donatello both want to PRAISE GOD IN HIS FIRMAMENT by sculpting unforgettable images that will decorate the church of their city inspired by the words of an old faith. Their own harmony comes alive in the singers holding the SCROLL.
Praising God is hard work but worth the joint effort to convey the beauty of the words and the sounds. If some people are not pleased, that, too, is human.

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