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Music in medieval education

April 2, 2009
Duomo, Florence, 2005.

Duomo, Florence, 2005.

This is an extract from “Medieval Learning and the Arts” by Ehrienfried Kluckert.  From Gothic Architecture Sculpture Painting Ed. Rolf Toman, Könemann, 1999.  The photographs are my own.

Beside the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence is the campanile designed by Giotto, completed in 1359….On the base of this campanile is a unique pictorial program in hexagonal bas-reliefs.., the scheme for which was worked out by Giotto before his death in 1337.  Giotto was not only a painter, but also a highly respected architect.  The reliefs depicted the history of the world – and so the doctrine of God’s saving grace in history – through representations of the Christian virtues, the scraments, astrology, the seven liberal arts, and biblical subjects.  Giotto followed scholastic philosophy, according to which all knowledge comes from God and must be directed to fulfilling the divine purpose; knowledge was an aid to faith.

This encyclopedic view of the world is closely linked to the educational institutions of the Middle Ages.  A precondition for the emergence of the universities was the blossoming of an urban way of life.  This was the situation that in Italy first gave rise to humanist though in the Middle Ages.

[Discussion of the development of humanism, individualism and the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.]

Duomo, Florence, 2005

Duomo, Florence, 2005

Founded around 1210, the University of Paris, like all medieval universities, aspired to provide universitas litterarum, “universal learning,” which in medieval terms comprised theology, philosophy, law, and medicine.  At the time, the University of Paris was considered one of the leading educational institutions because it was based explicitly on the faculties considered inherently universal, theology and philosophy.  in neither Bologna, where law was the core of the curriculum…, nor Salerno, where medicine was foremost, could the character of a universitas litterarum be fully realized.

The faculty of philosophy taught the seven artes liberales, liberal arts.  In this complex learning system of the Middle Ages, there was an obvious synthesis of medieval piety and intellectual doctrine.  The Roman statesman and writer Cassiodorus (ca. 490-ca. 583), creator of the early medieval educational canon, drew up guidelines for secular studies in the second book of his Institutes.  This contains a reference to a say of Solomon (Proverbs 9,1) according to which knowledge rested on the “seven pillars” newn out by wisdom.  These seven pillars were defined by the Ne0-Platonic grammarian Martianus Capella (5th century AD) as the arts liberales, though the concept of the intellectual artes goes back at leas to the Roman philosopher Seneca (4 BC-65 AD).

The seven liberal arts were subdivided in the trivium and the quadrivium; the former included grammar (that is, study of the Latin language), rhetoric, and dialectic, the latter, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music……

[Discussion of depiction of the arts in painting and sculpture.]

Campanile, Duomo, Florence, 2005.

Campanile, Duomo, Florence, 2005.

……Music is represented [in depictions of the quadrivium on the campanile of the Duomo in Florence] by Jubal… – an earlier representation of music by Tubal Cain, the biblical first “artificer in brass in iron,” was made by Andrea Pisano and Giotto….  In both cases it was the melodic and rhythmic striking of a metalworker’s hammer that was seem as a metaphor for making music.  For the medieval mind, mathematical principles were the basis of music, for harmony could be expressed in numerical relationships.

Toman, Rolf, Ed., Gothic Architecture Sculpture Painting, Könemann, Cologne, 1999, ISBN 3-8290-1741-3. Ehrenfried Kluckert, “Medieval Learning and the Arts”, pp. 484-5.  English edition.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2009 5:44 pm

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