(b. 1483, Urbino, d. 1520, Roma)

St Cecilia (detail)

Oil transferred from panel to canvas
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna

Vasari attributed this wonderful still-life to Raphael's assistant, Giovanni da Udine. A close examination has shown, however, that the instruments are by the same hand as the rest of the painting, namely by Raphael.

St Cecilia became the patron saint of musicians, and as such she mastered several instruments so that she could accompany her songs of praise to God. Yet in this picture a number of instruments - a viola da gamba, flutes, cymbals, a tambourine and a triangle - lie at her feet, and she is holding a portative organ so that some of its pipes are falling out. (By the way, the pipes are depicted in reverse order; probably for the sake of compositional balance.) Did the patroness of music forsake the instruments? This is conceivable only if the tools of music in this painting represent sensual, profane music, which obviously cannot compete with the heavenly choir.

It can also be proposed that Cecilia silences her instruments so that the harmony of the heavens could, be heard unimpeded.

If this is the case, then this painting proclaims the superiority of vocal over instrumental music, since it is the singing of the angels that serves the praising of the Lord most directly. A few decades later, under the influence of similar thinking, Palestrina created his wonderful "a capella" works, which signaled the zenith of purely vocal musical composition.

Such a peculiar interpretation of the Cecilia theme was not entirely accepted even by the contemporaries. At least Marcantonio Raimondi disagreed, because in an engraving, copied from this Raphael painting, the pipes of the organ in Cecilia's hand are properly lined up, and the choir of angels is also equipped with a harp and a violin.

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