Concert of Sacred Music
Hans Burgkmair circle of (1473-1531)

Concert of Sacred Music, ca. 1530.

One of a pair, oil on panel., H. 0.18 m; W. 0.28 m

Provenance: Collection John Appleby.

Hans Burgkmair, the Elder, painter and woodcut artist, was one of the first German artists to show an influence of the Italian Renaissance. Some 700 woodcuts are credited to him, including his principal work, a series of 135 prints celebrating the triumphs of the emperor Maximilian I. His works include some of the first chiaroscuro woodcuts, cut from two or more blocks inked with different tones to give gradations of light and shade.

Augsburg’s golden age was during the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was one of the most important financial and cultural centres of Europe. It was home of the famous Fugger family of merchants and bankers. Besides Hans Burgkmair the Elder, many major artists worked in Augsburg, such as Hans Holbein the Elder and the Younger.

Our two panels are quite small and might have served to decorate a musical instrument. Both of them show fine notches on the verso.

The artist painted the figures in golden tones on a dark background, describing precisely the musical instruments, the musicians’ gestures and their dresses. Absorbed by their music, these figures seduce us by their elegant looks and luxurious clothes. Some of the instruments and especially the musicians’ clothes are without a doubt of German origin.

The dresses depicted here were typical of Southern Germany, from the first half of the 16th century. For men, this fashion included a wide silhouette, broad and square at the shoulders and many rows of cuts down the sleeves, trousers and gown. These slashes used to reveal contrasting linings. The flat hats and the particularly wide shoes called Kuhmaulschuhe, are another aspect of this fashion.

The first panel presents a frieze like composition showing a number of singers and musicians turned to the right. The depicted instruments, a treble cornet and a sackbut, often appeared as support for choral music. As the musicians are placed in front of a music stand, they might be in a church.

Almost forgotten today, the treble cornet was, from the 15th until the mid-17th century, among the most important musical instruments. It had the reputation to imitate the human voice. Its mouthpiece was usually placed in the corner of the mouth. The one represented here is a straight treble cornet, which was widely used before 1550, especially in Germany.

The sackbut was the ancestor of the trombone. It was similar to the trumpet, but was characterized by a telescopic slide with which the player varied the length of the tube. It can be seen in 15th century engravings, and was frequently used from the 16th until the mid-17th centuries, especially in Northern Italy and in Germany.

The second panel depicts a concert scene with three violas and a small portable organ called a regal. The regal was largely used in Germany, France and Spain from the 14th to the 16th century. To be played, it was usually placed on a table, and a second person had to stand behind the instrument and pump the two bellows. The string instruments are violas da gamba in two or three sizes, as they appear in Sebastian Virdung’s 1511 treatise Musica getutscht, and again in Marin Agricula’s Musica instrumentalis deudsch, 1528-1529.