Peter Medhurst Introduction

June 02, 2022

Video Transcript

Speakers: Peter Medhurst, Context Expert

Peter Medhurst: Hello everyone. My name is Peter Medhurst. I am located in London, England and I'm a musicologist with a great interest in music of the 16th, the 17th, and the 18th centuries. And just to put you in the picture, I'm a harpsichordist, an organist, and pianist – as well as a trained singer. In fact, I'm a bass baritone. And over the years I have developed this huge interest. No, let's call it a passion in paintings, in galleries, wherever they might hang that show musical scenes. So I might go around the Louvre, for example, and gravitate to those paintings that have musical references. So it could be showing people making music. It could be a portrait of a composer playing a musical instrument and so on. And one of the things I discovered is that when music is present in a painting, you should be always on your guard because I think there's a subtext often going on and a great deal of symbolism as well. And so for our lecture, which is musical paintings of the Baroque and drawn from a period which is roughly 1600 through to 1750, I have made a selection of paintings that were caught my eye over the years. Which ranged from painters such as Saraceni, whose "Saint Cecilia and the Angel" hangs in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. And we'll talk about the relationship of the Angel to St. Cecilia – who at that moment is tuning her lute, rather than playing it – very interesting point. We'll go on to look at a wonderful double portrait of Constantijn Huygen's a very important 17th century low-countries diplomat, but an amateur composer and musician. And he's shown there in this wonderful double portrait by van Campen with his wife – and together they're holding a piece of music. And the great question is why and what does it symbolize? Then, we'll see if there's time. We'll turn to the paintings of Vermeer, specifically to "A Lady Drinking with A Gentleman" painted in the 1650s. And my goodness, whenever you look at a painting by Vermeer, he stage sets everything so carefully that it's up to you to try and work out what is going on. But I can tell you the presence of music symbolizes something quite deep going on between the young woman and the young man. And also one of the last paintings will be looking at is of the great late Baroque composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. It's not great painting in the sense of its quality, but it's a great painting in terms of what it has in its content. So this is the only portrait that we have of Johann Sebastian Bach. Done by an artist called Haussman in Leipzig in 1746. And the interesting thing about that painting is, and I've seen it so many times over the years – and the versions of it as well – is that it is wonderful to see Bach, certainly, but you very easily could pass by it on to the next slightly more interesting painting. But if you linger and look at what he's holding in his hands, there's a sheet of music with the most enigmatic content. And what I'd like to do in our time together is work out exactly what is on that sheet of paper, because it is actually a puzzle being presented by Bach to you, for you to work out. So if you're free to join me for the musical paintings of the Baroque, I look forward to seeing you very much.

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