Painting with Music

Visualizing Harmonia in Late Archaic Representations of Apollo Kitharōidos

In: Greek and Roman Musical Studies
Carolyn Laferrière Yale University

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When Apollo is depicted playing his lyre, the representation of his active musical performance suggests a sonic element in the viewer’s perception of the image. In this paper, I examine how Apollo’s music and its effect upon his audience are communicated in late Archaic Athenian vase-painting. I draw attention to three musical terms, namely ῥυθµός, συµµετρία, and ἁρµονία, which were defined around the same time that the images were created. These concepts were also used for art criticism, encouraging a comparison between art and music. Working between these musical terms and the visual images, I show that the material representation of Apollo’s music informs each image’s composition through the repetition of similar lines and forms among Apollo, his instrument, his audience, and the plants and animals that accompany them. The images suggest that the sounds of the god’s music draw the composition together into a musical harmonia, thereby continually reaffirming the unifying character inherent to Apollo’s music.

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