Visual consonance: place, time, theme, style

Visual consonance: place, time, theme, style

CD cover with a 14th-century illumination of two embracing lovers surrounded by flowers; one holds a falcon, suggesting they're resting from a day of hunting.

Here’s Anonymous 4’s CD The Second Circle: Love Songs of Francesco Landini. As you’ll recall, Landini is the blind virtuoso and composer most associated with the Italian ars nova. Consider the image on the cover.

Courtly lovers in a garden? Check.

Fourteenth-century source? Check.

Lavish illumination? Check!

That image is from the iconic Codex Manesse, the great, early 14th-century manuscript of German vernacular song produced in Zurich.

Ah, there’s the dissonance.

If it were me, I would avoid using the Codex Manesse for anything but German-language repertoire of the period. If the visuals are to be an extension of historically-informed performance, then choosing visually consonant images is just as important as choosing the right instruments and tuning system.

It’s not just an academic distinction, as those who’ve taken an art history class may remember. Getting all four parameters–time, place, theme, style–just right is sometimes a challenge. But Francesco Landini lived and worked in Florence. Florence! There’s so much visual art to be had from trecento Florence (an artistic “victor” that certainly wrote its own history) that there’s plenty of leeway to think outside the box even while sticking with the right theme and style.

That said, every project has its constraints. The Codex Manesse image is thematically perfect in addition to being pretty well-known. Those are big marketing advantages. (I don’t know the recording first-hand; the liner notes may point out a deeper connection.) My practical constraints are access, rights, cost, and time. All four can seriously nibble around the edges of “right place, right time, right theme, right style.” If the practical constraints are too tight, then it’s time to think creatively about the meaning of “right.”

For the record, I love Anonymous 4. We brought them to campus when I was an undergrad, and I was totally starstruck.


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