Music In Art

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

In its continuing Guide to Imagery series, Getty Publications has released MUSIC IN ART. Written by Alberto Ausoni, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Turin (and translated by Stephen Sartarelli), the 384-page paperback (perfectly sized to fit the pocket during a museum visit) is broken down into five categories: Symbols and Allegories, the Mythological Heritage, Religious Subjects, Music and Its Performance, and Musical Instruments.

Ausoni has chosen four hundred paintings (all of which are reproduced in full-color) for the book. His perceptive comments on each of the paintings are laid out in lucid fashion on the page; they are not only informative but easy to read (and understand).

Here he is, for example, on the pastoral divinity, Pan. After giving an overview of Pan's place in mythology, he analyzes two famous paintings of the God of shepherds and herds: one by Dirck von Baburen (1618), the other by Arthur Hacker (1892). The former shows a very human-looking (but impish) Pan smiling out at the world, with a syrinx (set of pipes) in his hands. In Hacker's painting, though, we learn that Syrinx was a maiden much coveted by the horny Pan.

"Having fled the god's clutches and reached the banks of the river Ladon, she found herself blocked by the rushing water. She prayed to the wood nymphs, her sisters, to transform her into a reed."

This explains why Hacker depicts her in the nude, posed like an ethereal figure in classical Greek statuary, hiding among the stalks of a swamp, hoping not to be seen by Pan.

Later in the book (in the Individual Instrument section), Ausoni has this to say about Marc Chagall's The Green Violinist, which depicts a violinist with dark-green skin suspended over the wooden houses of the Russian town where the painter spent his childhood and adolescence. "The figure of the fiddler on the roof derives from the stories of Sholem Aleichem, inspired a Broadway musical of the same name," comments the all-knowing author. He also explains that the figure was "inspired by Chagall's own grandfather, an amateur musician, and his uncle Neuch, who used to play on the roof with his legs crossed."

(J. Paul Getty Museum, $24.95. 310-440-6795.)