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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 26
Year: 1993
Author: Rosario Alvarez
Title: La Iconografía Musical Latinoamericana en el Renacimiento y en el Barroco: Importancia y Pautas para su Estudio



Musical iconography in Latin America embodies a magnificent wealth and variety of images that show the many faces of music—religious and profane, cult and popular, vocal and instrumental—to which is added the color of dance. These images represent instruments and scenes from Indian, Mestizo, Creole, and European musical life. They give us an idea of the broad array their manifestations take.

All these images are of great value to the musicologist because they are capable of revealing the instruments used in each era and in each region, their peculiar playing techniques, the social environs that surrounded the composer and the interpreter—dance, feast days, parades, and processions—and even a few scores, which also received the attention of painters. They also help to reveal what plastic artists, patrons, and the recipient society of these works of art thought about music. As a result, the study of this area will help us see the role music played in the artistic, intellectual, religious, and civil life of all these countries of the Americas by affording us certain irreplaceable visual data that documentary sources, and even the preserved instruments themselves, cannot give us even though they do round out the information.

Before getting into this subject, we wish to issue a warning about the title of this paper. We are aware that European styles and their chronology in the Americas were not strictly followed because over a period of two centuries of American art, the stylistic elements of several European centuries became intertwined (Castedo 1988, 207). As Jorge Bernales (1987, 5) said, “What is perfectly explicable in Europe in the sixteenth century might appear in the New World a century later as a valid manifestation, without aesthetic considerations of being archaic or lacking in timeliness, since the motivations were different. They might be formal anachronisms, but neither ideological nor aesthetic anachronisms, since these are, in the final analysis, the foundations of works of art. Besides this, in America there are early compositions which in Europe would be called—in terms of dates—projections or anticipations of Baroque-like moods, and probably they were owed to very different causes. It is, then, necessary to note that America has its own chronologies, with delays and advances with respect to Europe, but explicable in the geographic context of that continent.” As a result, if we speak of the Renaissance and the Baroque in the title of our paper, it is to follow the conventionalisms of art history, but it is very clear that we are going to speak about the musical iconography of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

Accordingly, in this period of three centuries, we are going to find a great variety of instruments represented in all the plastic manifestations of the New World: sculpture, relief, and painting, as well as in miniatures, gold-working, ceramics, textiles, and other mediums. The great majority of these instruments are European although native instruments, such as certain types of natural flutes and trumpets, or some type of noisemaker such as the maraca, will also appear. There are even adaptations of European instruments to the new milieu and available resources, as is the case of the charango and the organs made by the native people. The number of European instruments represented in Spanish American art works is not as great as it may at first seem. As in the fine arts of the Old World, the instruments shown have been those the artist preferred; after all, from the instruments in use in his time the artist chooses those that best serve his purpose, which is now esthetic and now ideological. And this choice obviously exercised by the fine artist has to be confined to the instruments of Spain, which are, of course, the ones that came to America. We have to consider that not every instrument that existed in Europe during the Renaissance and the Baroque was used in Spain, for our country always had a marked preference for certain timbres and tones. The range of Renaissance reed instruments, with and without mouthpieces, for instance, known in Europe at the time and included by Praetorius in his Sintagma Musicum (Wolfenbüttel, 1618-20), never gained acceptance in Spain, where the variety of instruments was more limited. The same could be said of some stringed instruments, such as the bass citterns which, judging from iconographic and documentary sources, seem not to have gained much favor among Spaniards. On the other hand, older instruments, which were in decline in Renaissance Europe or had not become very widespread on the continent, were enormously important in Spain during that period. It is common knowledge that the harp was highly developed in the Spanish Baroque and in prominent use for playing the basso continuo. It retained this importance in the Americas, to which the organization and style of the religious music of our cathedrals were transplanted, though there is as yet no documentary or iconographic evidence of the presence of the double harp, which was in widespread use in Spain at the time. This is also true of the vihuela and the guitar both as solo and accompanying instruments for secular music and in the more limited function of supplying the basso continuo in religious scores. The guitar sired a diverse family of instruments in all the countries of Spanish America, at the expense of other plucked instruments such as the lute and archlute, cittern and bass cittern, which were much more widely played in Europe. Spain also differed from Europe in its taste for bowed instruments, and this difference extended to Latin America as well. Although in the 16th century the three Italian families of these stringed instruments (the lira da braccio, the viola da braccio, and the viola da gamba) were played in our country, as the next century wore on the iconography and documents of Spain and America reflected the rise of the violin family against the viola “da gamba” (vihuela de arco).

Apart from these special features and limitations, however, it may be said that the repertory of Spanish instruments differs little from that of the instruments used elsewhere in Europe, and that Spanish American iconography depicts a wide range of them, though not as wide as we would have wished. We find, then, among the chordophones, harps, harpsichords, clavichords, lyres, lutes, mandolas, guitars—both large and small—citterns, vihuelas, both plucked and bowed, viole da braccio, violins, violoncellos, violone and viole da gamba. Among the aerophones are organs, flutes, shawns and bass shawns, dulcians and bassoons, straight and turned trumpets, cornetts, and sackbuts. Among the idiophones are tambourines, jingles and triangles, and among the membranophones, drums and frame drums.

This, then, is a rich and varied group of instruments that Latin American art offers us, but how are they to be interpreted? How can we know whether or not each instrument is depicted realistically, as well as the musical setting of which it is a part? What were the intentions of the authors or the ecclesiastical advisors, if any, when they included them in the iconographic programs of the paintings and reliefs that were going to decorate the holy places?

Naturally, depictions should not be taken literally since their meaning goes beyond the simple issue of music. One must start with the basic idea that the work of art encompasses, to some extent, an interpretation of the reality which it reflects. Not even in the most realistic facets of art does the work act as a snapshot of one moment in time because artists manipulate or modify reality to their own ends. In addition, in many cases artists are not so much concerned with copying exactly an instrument of daily life familiar to everyone as they are in offering their own view of it, tracing its basic lines to suggest this or that form, or presenting instruments distant in time or in space, the less frequent case, so as to put the composition in a different time or space context from their own. In light of this, students must not confine themselves to identifying and describing the musical images of the plastic arts but must give them adequate interpretation, using artistic, literary, and historical media that will help them unearth the creative process. In doing so, the truth of the objects represented and their meaning in the composition will be explained. Although the analysis must be done in an individual way, we believe that there are certain general guidelines that can be applied to all Latin American art.

As a result, by making an objective judgment of images that have been cut, sculpted, or painted with a musical theme, we must bear in mind a series of factors that doubtlessly influence the type of instrument represented and the more or less real traits that it has. The first are of a formal nature and are related to the artistic medium, strictly speaking.1 The second are thematic and are related to the intellectual and instructional function of Christian art which illustrates and comments on the sacred scripture and a variety of religious, liturgical, moralizing, or hagiographic texts.2 To this end, it is necessary to keep in mind that the supporting material frequently dictates what type of instrument will appear in the plastic compositions, thus the instruments represented are selected. At a third level, historical, social, and religious factors would have to be analyzed to the extent that they promote the appearance of certain topics in some art and not in others, or give an explanation of their omission.

We will limit ourselves in this study to examining the formal factors because we do not wish to go beyond the dimensions set for this paper. We can leave the analysis of the other points to future works.3

Formal Factors that Affect the Work of Art

We have already stated that any analysis of iconography has to start by studying all the aspects contained in the work itself, since it is the support for the instrumental motifs that it contains. Only in this way will we learn its true meaning, the thought that guided the author when it was developed, the reason the music is in it, and the degree of realism of the instruments selected. The formal study of the work itself is, then, the first step of this analysis, and in it we must consider a variety of points, ranging from the material medium that the creator used to express his artistic message, the style, and the aesthetics of the work, that is, the final result, to the consideration of the limitations of the artist himself and the work procedures. This formal analysis must consider one final aspect, apart from its historical context, which is the possible manipulations or restorations that the work of art has undergone over the course of time.

Let us look carefully then at the following points: 1) the limitations of the artistic medium and the work techniques; 2) the artist’s limitations; 3) the intervention of other hands in a series of paintings; 4) the models; 5) the styles; and 6) the restoration of the work of art.

Limitations of the Artistic Medium and the Work Techniques

The material with which the work of art was prepared imposes on the artist certain physical limitations that he can overcome if he is skillful. As a result, instruments worked in stone lack many functional details or display a series of imprecisions in terms of the number of strings, pegs, or sounding boards in string instruments; the number of holes and reeds in wind instruments; the number of pipes and their distribution in organs, and so forth. The basic reason is the poor ductility of the material. Ductility also influences the shape of the elements having the most complex features, which have to be simplified, as is the case with the sounding boards. The part that offers the greatest difficulty to the sculptor consists of the strings. These are very difficult to sculpt in stone or at least require a great deal of time and hard work. Frequently they are left out, grooves are cut, and they are shaped by way of a flat lifted surface, or are fewer in number, as is the case of instruments with many strings. This can be seen, for example, in the relief of the Assumption on the façade of the Cathedral of Mexico, sculpted by the brothers Nicolás and Miguel Jiménez (second half of the seventeenth century). The façade shows a few angels playing a straight trumpet; a Renaissance harp with only five strings, which start at a column instead of a resonance box; and a hand vihuela having a straight rather than concave middle and none of the features characteristic of this instrument. The same is true of the lute depicted on the façade of the monastery of Profesa of Mexico, included in the vision of St. Ignacio de la Storta (first half of the seventeenth century). The lute has no strings, pegs, or frets, and the only thing noticeable on it is the tailpiece and the round opening on the top which lacks the usual rosette.

Stone also imposes certain conventionalisms such as those used with certain wind instruments. For example, to avoid shaping the real direction of the tubes of the trumpets in their peculiar shapes, which would entail many impossible difficulties of forming angles against the body of the musician, the horn is directed downward, close to the body of the trumpet player when he is facing straight ahead; or the trumpet player stands in profile holding the trumpet horizontally, upward, or downward, but connected to its supporting wall, as can be seen in the friezes of the church of the Trinity in the Paraguayan reservations (first half of the eighteenth century) or the doors of the Franciscan church of St. Martín of Huaquechula (Puebla) of the sixteenth century. In addition, the reliance on the wall has led the native artist of one sculpture in the tower of the Cathedral of Cordoba (Argentina) to turn the straight part of the trumpet into an angle in order to gain support (plate 1) when the carving of the musician was done on a corner of the building.

Key instruments and organs also pose difficulties for representation in stone. These instruments do not appear often on doors; and when they do, they employ certain conventional techniques. This is what has occurred on the frieze of the church of the Trinity of Paraguay mentioned above where there are a harpsichord (plate 2) and an organ in profile, with the keyboards left out.

On the other hand, this medium offers us the possibility of having the volumes of the chordophones, their back side, the width of the connecting plates, or the placement of the pegs on the back part of the pegboard, although this is not always the case; and the artist does not get concerned with working the parts that cannot be seen. This is what has occurred with the famous charangos of Peru, which are hard to identify with this stringed instrument in its present form. By not having carved its back side, which is known to be bulbous, it is difficult to say whether it is a small guitar with a flat back, such as those of the eighteenth century, or whether it is the present charango whose body is made of an armadillo shell. This is a typical example of adaptation of an instrument to new means and materials.

To the difficulties that stone poses for the craftsmen, we must add the serious deterioration that these works have suffered, exposed to the weather in most cases, and the destructive action of atmospheric agents which erode or mutilate the instruments, robbing them of essential elements. This allows us to understand how difficult it is to make even a simple identification of the instruments.

Crafting in wood allows greater detail since this material is more ductile, but other factors are involved here. One is the lack of interest or care in setting out precisely all the structural features of an instrument, since they might not be necessary for the final results of the work. In this way, the lutes carved into the altarpiece at the Church of the Assumption at Juli (Peru, circa 1620) have a tailpiece, strings, and frets; but they do not have pegs or the carved rosette. This lack of care in the work of instruments carved into wood also appears in another relief of the Assumption at the monastery of Milpa Alta (Mexico, sixteenth century) in which only the bodies of the cornett, the straight trumpet, the lute, and the vihuela have been rendered, without adding any other features to them.

However, it is possible to find good wooden reproductions of instruments in the hands of the angels that crown the Baroque facades of organs, such as those in the cathedral of Mexico. The boxes of the stringed instruments are well made and imitate the work of luthiers themselves; but the strings, soundboards, tailpieces, frets, rosettes, and other parts appear to be painted, a technique that clearly made the work easier. In the final analysis, these instruments would not be played! On the other hand, the wind instruments found in the hands of these heavenly creatures, or those of some saints carved in the round, were not made of wood but of paste, glued material, or cardboard, all of which were carefully painted to hide the basic material. This avoided the difficulties that could arise from carving the tubes. Just think of all the many angels with straight and turned trumpets, horns, bassoons, dulcians, shawns, and bombards that appear in altarpieces, organs, pulpits, altars, and cornices.

Painting doubtlessly offers the artist greater possibilities of introducing a series of integral elements in full detail. In addition, it is very possible that many of the adornments that we see on the tops of the vihuelas and guitars have been copied by the instrument-makers themselves, because the paintings were in visible places throughout the churches and could exert influences on fields other than religion. Examples of richly ornamented guitars are in the paintings on the vaults of the church of Compañía in Cordoba (Argentina), where there is one in the hands of an angel and one in the “Triunfo de la Inmaculada” in the Church of Jesús of Machaca (La Paz, eighteenth century) being played by a siren (plate 3).

However, while it is true that the instruments represented in these pictorial works are those that appear most believable to the musicologist, one must remember that other factors also play a role in them. Examples are the working techniques, the style, and the understanding that the painter has of the instruments.

Without doubt, the pictorial technique used is a factor to consider. An oil painting, which can be corrected many times, is not the same as an al fresco painting in which the outlining has to be fast and sure since there is no opportunity to change it. This technique leads to schematic and simple representation of instruments such as occurs in the mural paintings of Tadeo Escalante in the chapter room of the Convent of Santa Catalina de Cuzco (end of the eighteenth century). In a country landscape, one can see a harp, a violin, a guitar, and a shawn providing the accompaniment for a singer, and they are all reduced to the most fundamental lines.

Miniatures, on the other hand, when they are of large format and take up an entire page, have all the characteristics of painting; but when they are small and decorate a cover page, or the fringe or heading of a page, they leave little room for musical elements. In this case, outlining is the most outstanding feature. Examples of both forms of representation are in the illuminations of Andrés and Luis Lagarto. When they work on a full page, as is the case of “La Concepción” (1622, the Alcázar Collection in the National Museum of History of Mexico) of the former, or in the “La adoración de los pastores” (1610, the Mayer Collection of the Denver Art Museum) of the latter, the harp, the guitar, the cornett, and the lute all show their typical features; but when they illuminate the first letter of a songbook, the images are much simpler.

Finally, consider other media for artistic representation in which instruments also appear. These could be ceramics, painting on gourds, or embroidery. In ceramics and painting on gourds, there are zero possibilities of correcting mistakes and thus the images of instruments are almost always in simple form. In embroidery, on the other hand, colored threads afford the craftsman unexpected opportunities of faithful representation and, if the initial drawing is successful, the final result can be surprising. This fact can be seen in a magnificent chasuble embroidered with angels playing harps, violins, and flutes, which is on display at the National Museum of the Vice Royalty of Tepotzotlan (Mexico, eighteenth century).

The medium, then, is a basic factor in assessing the realism of a musical instrument. This point, while discussed briefly, has been emphasized by Emanuel Winternitz (1979, 39) in his works.

Limitations of the Artist

Naturally, the degree of realism in plastic representation of an instrument depends on the creator of the art himself.  The limitations on the artist can be of one of two types: technical or intellectual.

The first refers, as is logical, to the skill in the handling of materials. The works of the great masters cannot be judged on the same basis as those of local artisans who have little mastery of their work techniques. One cannot compare, for example, the paintings containing instruments done by Cristóbal de Villalpando (“El Dulce Nombre de María” in the museum of the Guadalupe basilica; “Cristo con ángeles,” “La Inmaculada Concepción” and “La Iglesia militante” of the Cathedral of Mexico, second half of the seventeenth century), by Juan Correa (“El Apocalipsis” and “La Asunción” in the Cathedral of Mexico, second half of the seventeenth century) or by Miguel Cabrera (“Nuestra Señora de los Siete Gozos” at the Granja de Mexico Galleries, first half of the eighteenth century) with others by secondary painters such as Juan Bautista Cáceres (“Alegoría del misionero” in the Museum of Santa Catalina de Cuzco, first half of the eighteenth century). It is doubtlessly true that the violone, harps, cornetts, and lutes of Villalpando are quite faithful, as are the citterns, harps, guitars, lutes, violone, and dulcians of Juan Correa and the harps, violins, violoncellos, and cornetts of Miguel Cabrera. In addition, all of these reproduce Baroque scores with extreme care with the one by Miguel Cabrera in “Nuestra Señora de los Siete Gozos,” being a masterful show of patience and attention to detail (plate 4). It is interesting to note that this last painter shows his understanding of the multichoral practice of the era by posing two groups of musicians against each other, those with the melody instruments and those that play the steady low part. In the group on the left we see a violin and a singer with the score,4 who are the persons responsible for carrying the melodic line or lines; while the dulcian, half-hidden by the harp, would continue the bass part; and the harp along with the guitar, the harmony. This, then, is an instrumental group of “low music,”  which contrasts with the group on the right where the singer is missing, replaced by piercing wind instruments, such as shawns and cornetts, which would play the melody in this case. Here the violoncello is given the job of playing the low part, and the harmony is achieved by adding the organ to the harp. One can also see in this painting a musical intention which is done not only by the bold contrasting of melodic instruments with continuing bass instruments (the stringed instruments of the group on the left are opposed by the dulcian, and the woods of the group on the right are opposed by the violoncello), but also by the place that they occupy in the composition. The bass instruments are in the lower part and the melody instruments are in the upper, with the exception of the organ which has to fill a space in the composition of the picture without hiding the other instruments.

This almost musical treatment, which Miguel Cabrera does effortlessly, is lacking in other less inventive painters. For this reason, the same criteria cannot be used to judge these works with those by less expert painters, such as the already-mentioned Juan Bautista Cáceres, where the harp, the vihuela, the harpsichord, and the lute are all rendered with a strong basis of ingenuousness.

The intellectual limitations reach especially to the understanding that the artist has of instruments. Normally, the artist uses for his compositions the instruments taken from his own environment, those that he is more or less sure of—not in vain can one follow the evolution of instruments through the plastic arts—but, on occasion, because of the topic or the need to vary the instrumental repertoire in works of major scale, the artist will introduce instruments he is unfamiliar with, that are removed from him in time or in space. Logically, the result is only a sketch of reality. Thus, for example, in “La Asunción” by Juan Correa in the sacristy at the Cathedral of Mexico, there is a type of square lyre whose arms are finished in turns (plate 5). This stringed instrument is unreal; we have found one model like it in a copy from the seventeenth century of an “Asunción” by Guido Reni (Convent of the Carmelites of Bracamonte, in Salamanca, Spain). We have already spoken of the fine reproduction of instruments that this painter gives us; thus, we cannot say that this piece is due to any lack of dexterity. Would he be attempting to draw here a classical Grecian-Roman zither, of which he would have only a vague idea and no help from a real model?

The same seems to be true of an outlined lyre, only a framework, with a bowed shape and no box, which is closer to the Greek lyre than the preceding instrument. This is introduced by Diego Quispe Tito in “La danza de Salomé” (the Church of San Sebastian of Cuzco, circa 1663). Perhaps this was an attempt to set the scene for the ancient world. It is precisely this type of silhouette of the lyre which has persisted to our day in emblems of musical societies and groups and as the symbol of music.

It can also happen that the artist is not concerned with providing a faithful representation of instruments, and then he engages his fantasy, creating capricious and unreal forms such as the S-shaped console harp by Manuel Da Acosta Ataíde (plate 6) in the frescoes of the Church of San Francisco of Ouro Preto (Brazil, eighteenth century), another harp on the doors of the organ of Andahuaylillas (Peru, circa 1630), where there is a compromise between the observation of reality (the box and the console) and fantasy (an S-shaped column), or in the extremely long and curved horn on the cupula of the Church of the Compañía in Cordoba.

There is no logical explanation for such images (the three painters have shown in their drawings of other instruments that they are very knowledgeable and have great mastery of the form), nor do we believe that a logical explanation has to be sought since it is possible to find a concave-convex rhythm that is very characteristic of the Baroque artist as part of the pleasure in the interplay of curves and counter-curves.

Intervention of Several Hands in a Series of Paintings

In the iconographic programs of a certain large scale, it is not unusual to see in the work several different hands from the same atelier. Each artist manifests his own peculiar personal style of multiple forms through the different elements in a composition but without abandoning the concept, structure, and general style of the work. This can be seen in the instruments represented, which always constitute a secondary element in any scene since what might appear to be typological variations in a single painting alone, or in two or more of the series, are only different ways of shaping the same instrument by the different painters involved in the group.

This is what might have happened in two canvases, “La Virgen aplastando al monstruo” and “S. Francisco enfermo,” in the series “La vida de S. Francisco” at the convent of the same name in Santiago, Chile, which was done in Lima (about 1670) by Basilio de Santa Cruz in collaboration with Fray Miguel de la Purísima and Juan Zapata Inca. The two canvases mentioned (plates 7 and 8) have guitars, but the two images are different. The first, in the hands of St. Thomas, is more archaic, like the bowed vihuela that St. Bonaventure is playing at his side, which shows very closed notches. The guitar has a dark wood end-piece with no frets, connecting plates of the same color, a shovel pegboard with five pegs, which would be for a like number of strings, and a circular sound box in the middle without a rosette. The vertical position of the instrument, obviously erroneous, like that of the bowed instrument beside it, is owed to the lack of space in the composition to put both instruments in a horizontal plane more than to ignorance of this question by the painter. The second guitar image, on the other hand, follows the normal way of playing and shows an extremely beautiful rosette on the front side, which is too close to the shoulders, the frets, and the peg holes on a line, as with the lute. In addition, in this rendering, the painter has attempted to show the different thicknesses of the strings, thus indicating a higher understanding of the object represented. Unquestionably, these two guitar images have been rendered by different painters, judging by their differentiated characteristics. The painting of the ecstasy of St. Francis during his illness may have been done by Juan Zapata Inca, because a canvas similar to the one in Chile, hanging in the Franciscan convent in Cuzco, has been attributed to this painter.  The guitar it depicts is an exact replica of the one in the Chilean canvas.

From this, one could adduce that the disparity in criteria in these two representations could come not from a different observation of reality but from the use of different models. It is certain that all these canvases are inspired by the engravings by Felipe Gall, Tomás de Leu and Ian Leclerc (López, de Mesa Figueroa and Gisbert de Mesa 1985, 425) and that the instruments could have been taken from them. However, we believe that this was not the case, owing to the type of stringed instrument used: the guitar. As is known, this instrument came to exist in its present form in Spain during the fifteenth century. From Spain it went to all the countries of the Americas, and even though in the seventeenth century it came to be used in France and Italy, its use was not widespread throughout Europe in that century. As a result, it would be surprising to find the guitar in Flemish engravings in the sixteenth or the first decades of the seventeenth centuries.

The Models

How did the artists work in these centuries? Did artists copy natural forms or did they use other procedures? What was the inspiration? What were the sources? The answers to these questions are not easy because there are many possibilities, depending on the circumstances involved in each case. Generally speaking, however, there were four types of work procedures.

Copying Objects from the Surrounding Reality

In general, it can be said that sculptors rely more on real models than painters do because they work with volumes and have to understand them. This can be seen especially in instruments having a round shape because modelings done in relief, especially low relief, can follow guidelines that painters use. Painters also reproduce authentic scenes from daily life; although, as we will see, they use other procedures. Examples of this pictorial realism are the three musicians (harp, cornett, and shawn) on a hearse (Anonymous, Cuzco, from the seventeenth century, in the Museum of Religious Art of Cuzco), the group of minstrels (two shawns, bass shawn, and sackbut) in front of a music stand, on a mural at the Xicotencatl Church in Tizatlán (Mexico, sixteenth century), or the instrumental group (violone, violin, dulcian, shawns, and harp) from the Jesuit town of San Juan Bautista, near the Uruguay River, in an engraving (plate 9) from 1755 (Simancas Archives). In addition, the drawings with musical topics in the “Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno” of Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala from the year 1615, with their simplicity, are invaluable testimonies to the musical life of those years in the New World.

On this point it is necessary to note that, on occasion, the instruments that artists reproduce cannot be authentic, but have to be the fictitious instruments that were used in theater (Winternitz 1979, 211-225). If unaware of this, the researcher reaches mistaken conclusions.

Use of Iconographic “Topoi”

While it is true that sculptors are more in tune with the study of real objects than painters are, this does not prevent them from using authentic iconographic topoi, that is, formulaic representations that act the same as motifs in musical works and which move from one place to another over an extended period of time. This is the case of the pair of sirens with charangos,5 which comes from the late seventeenth century and appears with slight variation in the Peruvian churches of San Miguel de Pomata (plate 10) in Santiago de Huamán, at the Puno Cathedral, and in the Bolivian Church of San Lorenzo of Potosí. Almost all of them are governed by the laws of symmetry in that they play the stringed instrument with the right hand or the left hand indifferently. Only in Puno are the two sirens playing the instrument with the right hand. The instruments are very simple, in light relief. Some have a round sound box and the string piece. Only the two from Puno have strings.

Although the siren with the charango appears with some frequency in churches of upper Peru, this motif is not exclusive to the region. It can be seen in Mexico starting in the sixteenth century and can be traced into the eighteenth century. In Mexico one can also find a variation of the motif of the sirens with two tails and guitars having ornamented fronts, which adorn the fountain at the house of the Count Santiago de Calimaya (eighteenth century). In Honduras, Guatemala, and the San Ignacio Mini Mission (Argentina) one can also see the typical formula of the sirens face to face (Gasparini 1972, 384). In addition, this topic was passed on to the minor arts. In gold-working, this formula can be seen in a bishop’s miter from the eighteenth century originally from Cuzco (the Brooklyn Museum, New York), as well as in textiles and ceramics.

A variation of the motif, that is to say, a single siren with guitar, entered the painting of the eighteenth century, especially in the allegorical carts of the “Triunfo de la Inmaculada,” as well as in the churches of Guaqui and Jesús of Machaca (plate 3), both in La Paz, which are the works of the painter Juan Ramos. There the siren is represented among hellish monsters on the lower part of the cart that is carrying Mary.

Another iconographic topoi although smaller, is that of Christ the King between two angelic musicians with guitars and shawms, as depicted on the portals of some Augustinian convents in Mexico, such as those of Acolmán and Yuririhapúndaro.

Copy of Engravings and Other Paintings

In analyzing Latin American artistic works from the Vice Royalty period, one cannot ignore the influence on them by both the works of European painters who came to the Americas as well as the engravings and prints of the same origin, whose affluence did not decline throughout the Baroque period. Leaving aside the influence of painters of other works, such as those from Flanders, on Cuzco painting of the seventeenth century, we will focus on the importance of engravings.

One must not forget that a good part of the Vice Royalty pictorial production depended on Flemish, Italian, and German engravings, most especially the Flemish. For the sixteenth century and the first third of the seventeenth century, the studios of Antwerp sent many prints, primarily religious, to the Americas. Starting at that time, those from the Rubens school appeared on the scene and immediately became enormously important for their quality and competed with those of other artists such as the Wierix brothers, Adrián and Juan Collaert, Cornelis and Philippe Galle, Schelte de Bolswert and Hans Bol (Gisbert de Mesa and de Mesa Figueroa 1982, 101 and ff).

What attitude, then, does the artist take toward the engraving, and what are the consequences for the field of instrumental music?

Our analysis has enabled us to find six different approaches:

a) The engraving is copied more or less faithfully as well as the existing instruments in it. This is the case of the paintings on the apocalyptic topic of Juan Gersón, destined for the space under the choir at the Tecamachalco convent (Mexico, sixteenth century), which recreate plates from German bibles of that century, possibly from those conserved at the National Library of Mexico and the University of Puebla (Camelo Arredondo, Gurría Lacroix and Reyes Valerio 1964). In the vision of the Lamb on Mt. Zion and in the hands of angels are several gothic-type archaic harps which are the only product of the copy of this model because the gothic harp, with its stylized and elegant shape, was never brought to the Americas (plates 11 and 12).

b) The instruments on the engraving are copied, but if what was copied was not understood, the result is an imaginary instrument. This is the case of the strange stringed instrument bowed by a musician in “La victoria de David contra Goliat,” by an anonymous engraver from the eighteenth century, at the monastery of Carmen of Arequipa (see cover illustration). This engraving is inspired, it would appear, by a Rubens tapestry which, in turn, was based on an engraving by Schelte de Bolswert. The possible successive copies of the instrument have evolved into a curious piece, with a pyriform flat box having a barely insinuated neck and no peg board, which shows several pronounced scrollings on the sides and three strings that are played with a bow. This is a strange typology that looks like no other known instrument. The only similar artefact we found was in a drawing from the same century in the possession of the Tyrolean Jesuit P. Sepp on his trip to Yapeyú, Argentina.

c) A recasting is made of several engravings, picking out instruments or persons from different printings. For example, the harp of King David in the “Coronación de la Virgen por la Trinidad” by Gaspar Miguel de Berrio (National Museum of Art of La Paz, mid-eighteenth century) takes as its model an instrument from a drawing by Rubens, but this is not the case with the trumpet of St. Vincent, nor other elements of the composition.

d) The instrument of the engraving is changed and adapted to the known world of music, as in “La Virgen de Montserrat” by Francisco Chihuantito at the Church of Chinchero (Peru, seventeenth century). In this work, there are several saints with shawns, sackbuts, and cornetts which replace the straight trumpet of the Flemish engraving on which it is based. Likewise, in the “Nacimiento de Cristo” by Gaspar M. de Berrío (Museum of Potosí, mid-eighteenth century), the musical elements have been changed from the Flemish engraving which was the model (from a printing of Baltasar Moreto in Antwerp), in which the artist was faithful with some elements but changed others. The singing angels remain along with the shawn, a lute whose arm has been lengthened excessively, and a violon being played by the angel facing backwards in the forefront. The lute in the forefront has been eliminated and replaced by a harp that is very close to the real thing both in structure and in execution (plates 13 and 14). In addition, one can see that this is quite different from the harp painted by Berrío himself for David in the “Coronación de la Virgen,” already mentioned, which, as we saw, was based on a drawing by Rubens. These, then, are two ways of working that come together, at times, in a single painter. They depend on what topic has been chosen. The author feels obligated to respect an iconographic formula in the King David but feels free to introduce a contemporary harp in the “Nacimiento de Cristo,” because the latter subject was not mediated by any formula.

e) Instruments were added to compositions that did not have them. In the “Adoración de los Reyes,” an anonymous Cuzco working with P. Francisco de Salamanca of the Convent of Merced (Cuzco, eighteenth century), one can see in the upper part two angels with a harp and a violin, two instruments that are missing in the engraving by Wierix (“Las historias evangélicas,” of P. Nadal) on which it was based. Nevertheless, we see in the instruments, the harp in particular, certain anachronisms that lead us to think that they, in turn, were taken from another engraving.

f) Instruments were eliminated from compositions that had incorporated them. This is, perhaps, the solution least resorted to by painters because the musical topic always visually enriched their works.

Use of Symbolic Instruments

Finally, we can include among the work procedures the use of archaic or archetypical instruments for symbolic reasons. In this area, we will be getting into a second level of iconographic analysis, that is, the area of theme. There are two fundamental examples to explain this point: the straight trumpets in the scenes of the Final Judgment and all topics related to it, and the medieval harp of King David.

The straight trumpet, with its conical tube and bell-like mouth, which appears in the hands of many angels in altarpieces, cornices, organs, and others, but especially in Final Judgment scenes, is a typical wind instrument, chosen from a long iconographic tradition. Its typology is that of the straight Arabian trumpet, or nafir, which entered Spain in the twelfth century. It evolved during the early Middle Ages into a type of longer tube with folding pieces. The straight model went out of use in the fifteenth century following improvements introduced by the new types of trumpets with the turned tube and the swivel. It has been maintained only in some military fanfare but has no musical importance. However, the iconography has been retained for centuries. In effect, the straight trumpet is an excellent angelic instrument owing to its specific functions: announcing plagues and apocalyptic cataclysms, or summoning the dead to the end of time. The straight trumpet was one of the pictorial formulas that artists used along with horns to translate visually the term tuba from biblical texts. And one cannot forget that the sound of the tuba or trumpet had a heavy symbolic burden since it was related to the nature of God. Even in the Apocalypse (1,10), the voice of God is compared with the blast of the tuba. In addition, the fathers of the church assimilated the tuba to the voices of the angels, a tradition that Casiodoro takes up in his exegesis of Psalm 46 which says, “The voice of the tuba represents the words of the angels whose enormous sound filled the air and shook it.”

This symbolic tradition is taken up by Latin American artists in their works, as can be seen in the “Final Judgment” by Melchor Pérez Holguín at the church of San Lorenzo of Potosí (early in the eighteenth century), in the work of the same name by Tadeo Escalante at the church of San Juan of Huaro (Peru, 1802), or in “La Nave de la Contemplación Mística con fundadores de órdenes religiosas,” Anonymous from the eighteenth century in the Museum of Tepotzotlán. In the latter, the trumpets are played by the four evangelists as the proclaimers of the word of God.

A straight trumpet also appears in those hagiographic scenes to which the Final Judgment alludes, such as those relating to St. Jerome or St. Vincent Ferrer.

As all rules have exceptions, we wish to emphasize here an anonymous painting from the eighteenth century showing the image of Our Lady of the Refuge (Franciscan School in Guadalupe, Mexico), for two reasons. First, there is only one trumpet, with no player, which symbolizes the voice of God coming from behind a cloud. Second, this trumpet is not straight; but it has a turned tube which would indicate a wind instrument that was contemporary with the painter.

Finally, we will turn to the topic of David, who in Christian art was one of the first to incorporate musical instruments in all their varied facets, for obvious reasons. For several centuries the typology of the stringed instruments that was attributed to him shifted between the harp, the psalter, the lyre, or any other bowed stringed instrument. This was due to the lack of knowledge about the true nature of his real stringed instrument. However, with the passage of time, and at the same time that its rich iconography was gradually being limited, King David’s association with music was erroneously set to the harp.6 This is clearly seen in all the images of this biblical monarch in the New World. Nevertheless, the typology of the harp that King David frequently exhibits is archaic, medieval, and goes back to the Romane model; but it was never a large contemporary harp although it is enriched by carvings and volutes. Here again we are faced by an iconographic formula derived from the European engravings which we have seen in the painting of the “Coronación de la Virgen” by Berrío. Likewise, one can see it in “El hospital de San Juan de Dios,” by Manuel Samaniego, in the chapel of the hospital in Quito (eighteenth century). It can also be seen in the “Agnus Dei qui tollis ...” by Marcos Zapata at the Cuzco Cathedral (1755).


Although we are in a time when naturalism and realism prevail in representation, there are stylistic characteristics of each stage that obscure the understanding of the world of musical instruments. From the end of the Renaissance, we wish to emphasize one: the limitation of what is represented to essential things, that is, to typical, solemn, and extraordinary, whose expressive value consists primarily in its distance from mere actuality and opportunity. For this art, the concrete and the immediate, the contingent and the momentous, the particular and individual are not essential (Hauser 1969, Vol. I, 448). This leads to the creation of certain archetypical models of instruments having beautiful forms and being perfectly drawn, but which are not of the everyday world, to the utilization of false instruments, taken from the theater because of the beauty of their lines, and to the stereotyping of instruments from the ancient world, which gives a sensation of the eternal. In the Latin American world, the first of these is clear in the paintings of Andrés de la Concha and Bernardo Bitti. The latter shows in the “Coronación de la Virgen” (Merced Convent, Cuzco, sixteenth century): a harp, a bowed vihuela, and a portable organ, all medieval, along with a lute, a cornett, and a dulcian from the era, all of which are recreated with great precision in the drawing and illuminated in a diaphanous way but which are lacking spontaneity.

If we move on to the Baroque, the fundamental period in Latin American art, we see that the compositions are richer and more complex than those of the earlier masters; but they contain a series of stylistic factors that prevent us not only from contemplating the instruments with all their individual traits but also from the simple identification of them. Since the Baroque is a style that prefers pictorial to linear, it tends toward dissolution of the plastic form into something moved and untouchable. The boundaries and shapes are erased by means of open brush strokes to give the impression of the unlimited, the incommensurable, and the infinite. To express spatial depth, the Baroque uses foregrounds that are too large and then diminishes background topics abruptly in perspective, leaving them diminished. It concerns itself with the apparently casual, improvised, and ephemeral visions instead of normal frontal and profile planes (Hauser 1969, Vol. II). In addition, the ordering of Baroque space uses light as one of its essential defining elements. The seventeenth century broke with the centralizing interest of the Renaissance and created focal points of attention which, while secondary in the thematic matter of the painting, became essential things, producing areas of chiaroscuro.

All of this has immediate consequences in the representation of musical instruments. The figures in the foreground are frequently facing backwards, leaving only fragments of the instruments being played peeping out or leaving them foreshortened, making it necessary to represent the instruments in less characteristic postures. Musicians are situated in other planes, even diminished in a dark area of a painting, or dissolved in a shining clarity with the outbreak of Glory, and with them, their instruments, making it impossible at times to identify them.

At other times, the instruments receive a free pictorial treatment, with a loose brush stroke which outlines the forms and suggests the remaining elements, thus making it difficult to provide an organological analysis of them. Naturally, this is not what artists hope for because the artist always prefers to capture the gesture and the precise postures of the musicians in the course of playing rather than to show us the different instruments involved.

Restoration of Works of Art

After considering most of the formal aspects implied in a work of art with a musical subject, we must bear in mind one final factor: the possibility that the work has been restored. Restoration could have seriously damaged the form of the objects represented; introducing a contemporary instrument where there had been a Baroque instrument, or some unreal form where there was a real one. If these manipulations are unknown, serious errors can be committed which lead to considering a new typology, which is only a false interpretation by the restorer. In addition, the placement of the musicians in a determined scene can be retouched, thereby losing its original meaning. Finally, one must think that some of these restorations to which we have alluded are not recent but were carried out many years ago, which may lead to even greater confusion.

These, then, are the formal elements to be considered in any iconographic analysis, if we are to draw valid conclusions to help us determine the value to the musicologist of images of instruments in pictorial and sculptural works of Latin American countries.



1. To some extent this is a matter of the pre-iconographic state spoken to us by Irwin Panofsky, Estudios sobre iconología (Madrid: Alianza, 1972) 15. Although he deals strictly at the start with the description and classification of the visible forms that the objects represented exhibit, we incorporate at this point a series of aspects which we believe have an influence on the form itself of the objects, in this case, the musical instruments.

2. We wish to note that although there are some profane works with musical instruments, for example, the painted Mexican folding screens from the second half of the seventeenth century, most of the works with musical content are religious. As a result, our study deals mainly with works of this type.

3. I explored the thematic, historical, social and religious factors that shape them in my paper “El Papel de la Música en el Arte Religioso Iberoamericano del Período Virreinal” (The Role of Music in Latin American Religious Art of the Viceregal Period), which I presented to the First International Meeting on Musicology, held in Caracas as part of the II Festival of Music of the American Past, from September 21 to 26, 1992, and soon to be published in the Revista Musical Venezolana.

4. In Cabrera’s conception, this lone singer stands for the chorus, which expresses the characteristic attitude of painters to music: they usually preferred to represent it by instruments, whose lines and masses visually enriched a composition, rather than to depict a choir of angels which, from the merely pictorial standpoint, is much less expressive.

5. On the meaning of the siren and her negative or positive image in art, see Sebastián López and others 1985, 484; Castedo 1988, 439-444; Gisbert de Mesa and de Mesa Figueroa 1985, 264 and ff; and Gasparini 1972, 384.

6. The error came from the false interpretation given in the Vulgate to the Hebrew term, kinnor, which was actually a lyre, and when translated to the Latin term, cithara. The ambiguity of this latter term over the entire Middle Ages made it possible to attach to King David a number of string instruments for several centuries until the iconography ultimately settled on the harp.