The siren, the muse, and the God of love: Music and gender in seventeenth-century English emblem books

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The emblem book, a collection of cryptic visual images accompanied by a motto and poetic epigram in Latin or the vernacular, was one of the most popular forms of early modern literature. It called upon the interplay between sensation and intellect, particularly auditory and visual pathways to understanding. The genre reached its apotheosis during the seventeenth century. Although these important compendia of culturally significant images have tended to remain outside the domain of musicology, they include numerous images of music which provide vital clues about its place in late Renaissance and early Baroque culture. One of the most striking and neglected features of seventeenth-century English emblem books is the consistent, didactic gendering of music, in which that which empowers, revitalizes, or inspires to noble action is most often depicted as masculine; and that which seduces, corrupts, or entertains sense before intellect is most frequently presented in feminine form. This essay demonstrates how these images and their accompanying poems serve to illustrate and sometimes undermine early modern English constructions of gender and attitudes toward women in a changing world. It also opens the possibility for further investigation of the vital link between music and emblematics in an era that emphasized the representational qualities of the auditory and visual art.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-138
Number of pages44
JournalJournal of Musicological Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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