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Da Vinci's Stave

Young Col

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Mrs YC and I were fortunate to get tickets for the excellent Leonardo di Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery in London last week. It finishes this week.

One of the featured paintings is Portait of a Young man ("The Musician"). It's a striking and, for the time, innovative, portrait of a young man holding a piece of music. The music has been folded concertina style and is part opened. While it is difficult to see all of it clearly because of shade, in several of the folds, one of them very clear, the stave has 6 lines, while the others have the five we would expect today. Most of it is a continous line of music across the folds.The lower 6th line has no notes on it so is not a short ledger line as we would understand it now.


Does anyone know - perhaps Tenor Viol? - how music was laid out then? Were there 6 lines if required? It's not clear what pitch clef it is intended to be. The painting was done in the late 1480s. It seems unlikely that it was a naive mistake. Da Vinci was an accomplished lyreist/lutenist and taught others. It had been suggested that the painting was originally done mostly by DaVinci's pupils but it is now recognised that it is primarily his work. Again, surely unlikely that he would let such an error pass if it wasn't all his own work. Intriguingly the hand holding the music and the music itself, at the bottom right of the portrait, were painted over at some time and only rediscovered in 1905 (the painting until then being thought to be of a duke of Milan). I suppose it's possible that restorers added the 6th line, but why not across the whole piece and again, surely such an error would have been spotted?


The exhibtion booklet that we bought has extensive notes about the painting, including the late discovery of the over-painted music, but no explanation of the inconsistent number of lines on the stave.

Any thoughts anyone?

YC
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Is it tab? They certainly used it then.
I was going to suggest that 6 lines indicates lute tablature tab.jpg

There are several different styles, the one we most usually see is English/French which uses letters for the frets. German and Italian tablature also have six lines but number them differently and Italian uses numbers instead of letters for the frets.

The 5 line stave was well in use by late C15th - I think it was even in use by the C12th, the four line staff being preserved for Gregorian Chant, dates from about C9th.

Jealous about getting in to exhibition - I'd liked to have seen it, but just too hard to do from outside London (and tickets were sold out). I was in London on business 10 days ago and popped into NG on way home - big queues.

Here's a link about reading tablature - it's only a page long.
 
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Young Col

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Thanks, Nick and TV. It could indeed be 6 line lute tablature. Here's a link to about the best reproduction I could find (and it can be blown up to see a bit better): http://arthistory.about.com/od/leonardo/ig/leonardo_paintings/ldvpg_10.htm
Still doesn't explain why part of the music has only five lines, except that however accurate Leonardo might have been, he was also notorious for not finishing works and perhaps he just didn't bother with that section!

We were very lucky to get some late tickets as we missed out when the box office opened.
YC
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Hmmm you're right to ask questions. It doesn't look like lute tablature when you blow it up. It looks like staff notation AND it appears to have 6 lines...

Initially I thought it was going to be one of those table books where you place the music on a table and the players (usually lutenist, singer and 3 viols / recorders) and each person's music is printed on the page to face them from where they are sitting. I have a facsimile of Dowland songs - can't promise when but I'll try photograph it and upload it.
 

old git

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Resembles a Greyhound Racing winning Bookmaker's ticket.

Another thing Da Vinci invented?
 

Young Col

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He probably designed a machine to work out the odds.

TV, now you can see why I was puzzled. Can't find any reference to this aspect of the portrait on the web.
 
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