Kraaz Examines Connections between Music and Art

A semester as a visiting affiliated scholar in Florence, Italy, has led to a new research subject for Sarah Kraaz, professor of music, chair of the department, and College organist. She will present results from that research with “Music for the Queen of Heaven in 15th Century Italian Paintings” at the Southeast College Art Conference in Sarasota, Florida, in October.

The paper focuses on the associations made between religious music and art within paintings, as well as the role of paintings in inspiring worship. Music iconology is the practice of studying and interpreting images, and it seeks the “real” meaning of artistic works. Music iconography, by contrast, examines the subjects and symbolic meanings behind a piece. Kraaz examines how music plays an important role in telling stories of the faithful in religious paintings by artists Taddeo di Bartolo and Gentile da Fabriano.

The paper also will be published as an article in Music and Art: An International Journal of Music Iconography, (The Graduate Center, The City University of New York).

Kraaz taught in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Florence program in 2012, and she plans to return to the program in the fall of 2016. In Florence, she began a collaboration with Dr. Gail Solberg, a professor of art history.

“I’ve always been interested in art history, but living in Florence for five months and seeing so much art there and in Rome and Venice, as well, really spurred me to learn more about it,” she says. “Artists frequently took great pains to portray angel singers and instrumentalists engaged in their music-making as realistically as possible.”

Di Bartolo, from Tuscany, made “Madonna and Child” in 1418, and his painting includes eight singing angels surrounding Mother Mary at her feet. The angels hold a scroll (or “cartiglio”) inscribed with the chant “Regina caeli.” These beings mirror human experiences as “intermediaries between humans and the Mother of God,” therefore linking the temporary and eternal worlds, Kraaz says.

Even the “Regina caeli” chant is intentional — the angels act as a choir, singing a song of resurrection. Within “Regina caeli,” Mary becomes the Queen of Heaven, sitting on a throne. The chant asks the Mother to “intercede on our behalf with her Son” as both “mother and queen.”

Gentile da Fabriano created two similar works, “Madonna with Child and Angels” (ca. 1405-1410) and “Madonna with Child and Angels” (ca. 1410-1412). The article examines the possibility of di Bartolo modeling his work after da Fabriano. “Both artists were contemporaries, and although we don’t have a lot of personal information, it seems likely that they knew of each other’s work,” Kraaz says. “It’s like doing a puzzle to try to piece together the origin and context of art that’s as old as these paintings are.”

Renaissance art explored “worship with a synthesis of all the senses – sight, hearing, smell, movement,” Kraaz’ work states.

“Studies in brain-mapping have shown that different areas of the brain ‘fire’ when seeing various actions portrayed in visual art, thus involving the viewer in whatever is happening in a painting,” Kraaz says. “This is something that’s been instinctual for centuries, I think, but only now do we have the language to describe it.”

The ACM Florence program allows students to examine the interactions between art and music. Kraaz’ classes in Florence — “Narration in Music and Art 1300-1650” and “Patronage, Gender and Power” — studied these connections, as well as those in literature, architecture and history.

“I teach the Medieval and Renaissance and the Baroque/Classical music styles courses at Ripon, so I already knew a lot about the music from those eras,” she says. “It’s a natural transition to learn about the art, as well, especially since the arts are all interconnected.”

Kaylie Longley ’15
Saint Francis, Wisconsin

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