MECKENEM, Israhel van the Younger
(b. 1440/45, Meckenheim, d. 1503, Bocholt)

The Lute Player and the Harpist

c. 1490
Copper engraving, 165 x 117 mm
Various collections

Students of architecture, of the history of costume, and of interior decoration are all indebted to Van Meckenem for the record he left us in such works as the one illustrated here. It is one of a series of twelve depicting the interiors of homes - not the castles or palaces of kings and potentates, but the houses of fairly affluent citizens. The latter are shown in various pursuits, playing the organ, lute, and harp, or preparing for bed. Thus we see the different rooms of a residence, with many of the furnishings carefully and faithfully delineated. In this engraving we may study the architecture of the room, the decorative chandelier, and a table and chair of the period. (Some prints in the series show more appurtenances than this rather sparsely furnished room.) Great care was taken with the details of costume and of musical instruments, and thus they provide excellent models for the present-day copyist. Indeed, the majority of Van Meckenem's engravings were sold to other artists as a kind of dictionary from which they might lift details; it is more than likely that our practical businessman created this series with such a use in mind. We may note here the crispness of the fine parallel lines, some crosshatching in the dark areas, and delicate flicks that model the countenances and garments - the work of a good, if uninspired, engraver. There is also a suggestion of portraiture in the expressions of the musicians, and it is quite possible that the furnishings were not the artist's only models.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
Francesco da Milano: Tre fantasie for lute