One of the goals of the visual artist is to evoke senses other than sight (which of course is involved outright).  Modern artists can accomplish this by producing multimedia creations that emit smells, play music, shriek, or even reach out to tickle or grope the gallery-goer. The thoughtful artist, however, realizes that these gimmicks will probably soon be relegated to the scrap heap.  Like the poet, the painter must rely on imagery to entice his viewer’s senses.  Wondering though a gallery of masterpieces, a visitor hungers for banquets laid out centuries ago: he longs to smell eternally blooming roses and yearns to reach through the ages to cosset a spaniel or stroke a silky cat.  These non-visual cues not only heighten the verisimilitude of art, but provide overall meaning and context.

All of which brings us back to the hurdy-gurdy from yesterday’s post. Although musical instruments are fascinating to look at in their own right, when they are included in a painting it adds an additional sensory dimension to the work. Music plays in the viewer’s head even though the gallery is silent.  I hope you listened to some hurdy-gurdy samples so that you can imagine its plangent voice while looking at these pictures.

As the hurdy-gurdy traveled from the monastery to the fashionable dancing rooms of the Renaissance, to troubadours’ gear, and into the hands of beggars, its symbolic meaning changed as well.

Illumination from the Cantigas de Santa Maria Manuscripts (Mid Thirteenth Century)

A detail from “The Garden of Earhtly Delights” (Hieronymus Bosch, late Fifteenth Century)

A Beggar and a Hurdy-Gurdy Player (print by Jacques Callot circa 1620s)

The Hurdy-Gurdy Player (Georges de la Tour, circa 1631-1636)

A Hurdy-Gurdy Player and other Musicians before a Cottage (Joost Cornelisz Droochsloot, 1659)

The Hurdy-Gurdy Girl (Jules Richomme, 1879)

[I included only a detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s magnificent triptych because the work is incredibly detailed and I intend to blog about it in greater detail in the future.]