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Hidden meanings of a painting by an unknown artist of the middle Ages: “Musicians»

“Musicians” is one of the most famous works of the Master of female semi-figures, which hides the hidden secrets of an unknown painter. The pictured notes are particularly interesting. Who is this mysterious master of half-figures? And what is written on the sheet music?
“Musicians” is a painting by a Dutch artist of the XVI century, known by the conventional name of Master of female figures, from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum with author’s repetitions from other museums. The painting is also called “Three girls playing music”.Master of female semifigures is the name given to an artist or group of artists in a workshop that worked in the 16th century. The name was used to identify the creators of 107 paintings. The master, who worked in the South of the Netherlands or in Antwerp, created female figures in genre scenes, small religious and mythological works, landscapes and portraits. As often happens in such cases, an unnamed artist in art history literature is called some characteristic feature of the paintings that are attributed to him (the Master of playing cards), or the plot that he depicted (The flemal master), or the initials that he put in place of the full name (the Master of E. S.), and so on. This master received this name because in most cases he depicted young women in a semi-figure perspective.
The works attributed to the Master of female semi-figures were most likely the creations of a large workshop specializing in small canvases depicting aristocratic young ladies. The ladies in the paintings participate in various subjects, such as reading, writing, or playing musical instruments. All women have the same heart-shaped face and the same angle. Expressions and gestures of female figures are characterized by grace. The master clearly expresses in his works the high artistic and moral humanistic values of the Northern Renaissance. The interior in paintings usually has wood paneling or a neutral background. The most famous works of the artist are the paintings “Madonna and child” and “Musicians” (or “Three girls playing music”).
“Madonna and child” is in the collection of the Hermitage. Do not be an exaggeration to call this work the best in the work of an unknown master. The painting depicts a fairly standard story for the XVI century: the virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. The virgin Mary attentively examines the book, and Jesus examines the vine. The landscape in the background resembles the work of Joachim Patinir. The symbolism of the canvas is very interesting: grapes are a symbol of Christianity and communion, and in the hands of a Baby – a symbol of the coming sacrificial death. Cherry is an attribute of good intentions and the acquisition of heavenly Paradise. Accordingly, together they symbolize the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The second most famous work of the Master – “Musicians” – is one of the most characteristic works of the Master of female semifigures. The work has several variants, of which the best is located in the Harrach collection (rohrau Castle near Vienna, Austria).

Plot of the picture
Music-playing girls are elegant and elegant: the image of girls, their thin aristocratic fingers, expensive attire, corresponding to the latest fashion of the time and supplemented with expensive jewelry. The charmingly chosen color scheme harmonizes with the plot: the palette is not flashy, mostly beige and brown, the warm cozy room is somewhat diluted with blue light that penetrates through the lattice Windows.
Sheet music book
As has been proved by researchers, the opened music book contains a real-life Aria in French: this is the music of claudin de Sermizy and the poems of Clement Marot, published in Paris in 1529. The text reads:
I will give you joy
My friend, and I’ll take you there,
Where does your hope go;
As long as I live, I will not leave you,
Even when I die,
My soul will remember you.

Yes, the poems are in perfect harmony with the subtle plot and image of the heroines. Soviet and Russian musician A. E. maykapar studied the musical notation in the picture and came to the conclusion that the singer on the left performs the soprano part, the flautist in the center plays the tenor part, and the lutenist on the right accompanies from memory, without looking at the notes. Her modest and tender gaze is directed directly at the viewer.

The painting was painted after 1529, either by an unknown Master or his pupil. The history of the painting is also unknown, it was received by the Hermitage between 1763 and 1773 from an unidentified source. Although some work and trying to qualify as the work of Jean Clouet and Hans a Gentile, but the attempts were unsuccessful. The master’s real name is still a mystery.

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