Tuesday, April 9th, 2013...12:55 am


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The following is a formal analysis paper I wrote for my Introduction to Western Art II course at Queens College.  The assignment Back Viewwas to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and pick a work of art to describe visually using terms we learned in class.  The art piece I decided to focus on was the Chitarrino (titled Mandora on the Met Museum website), a 15th century stringed instrument that was made in Italy, perhaps specifically in Milan.  This instrument is made from boxwood and rosewood and is located in Gallery 684 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The piece is totally carved and can be seen in the round, but obviously originally had a practical purpose of creating music.  The carvings are done in low relief, though some figures are carved a bit more deeply.  That being said, the images that are represented on the piece seem to be extremely symbolic of love, fidelity, superstition, and passion.  I shall begin with describing the backside, and more decorative side, of the Chitarrino.

The main subject on this particular side is a couple huddled underneath a tree.   The woman, on the left, gently lays her hand on the man’s arm.  Her feminine qualities, such as her breasts, are highlighted.  Though she is wearing a dress, her areolas are extremely prominent on her chest.  Her gaze is slightly to her left, looking at the man.  The small dog at her feet furthermore highlights this sense of loyalty and fidelity.

Close Up View of CoupleThe male figure, on the right, is less aware of his female counterpart.  His gaze seems to be directed at the viewer instead of at his lover.  His right hand gently rests on his pubic area, highlighting his masculinity despite the cover of his clothes.  He holds a bird, perhaps a parrot.  Though I am not quite sure of a bird’s symbolism, other images of men and birds come to mind: pirates and hunters.  Both of these male figures carry birds with them, either to stalk prey or to show off their riches, and highlight their power.

Above the couple, in the tree, resides Cupid with his bow and arrow.  What I find interesting in this addition Front Viewis that it brings in a Greco-Roman element to the piece.  This can be understandable as the instrument is from the Italian Renaissance era, but it conflicts with the figure even further up the “stem” of the instrument.  Though the figure isn’t fully recognizable, through hand gesture and garb, one can assume the man is a saint, if not Christ himself.  The mixture of pagan and Christian figures is a bit confusing.  Furthermore, the presence of Christ, a saint, or God, creates an almost Adam and Eve aura to the loving couple, as they stand under a tree, surrounded by fauna and foliage – also possibly representing fertility.

Another controversial figure on the Chitarrino is the dragon (featured at the topmost part of the instrument).  If the dragon were to
breathe fire, he would demolish the Christian figure below him.  A dragon is seen as an evil creature in most European cultures.  Perhaps the dragon here is being compared to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  Perhaps the dragon is put there as an affront to the church, and is promoting the paganistic elements of passion and love.

On the front of the instrument, where the strings would have originally been strummed, the opening is composed of intricate wooden filigree carvings.  The curls and intertwining of the wood come together to create four hearts – symbols of love and passion.  The intertwining also represents the intertwining of two families and two individuals – it is believed that this instrument may have been a wedding present or been played at a wedding reception.

Let us not forget that the Chitarrino was made to be a working and beautiful sounding instrument.  At the end of the curved stem, emerging out of what seems to be either a flower or a bunch of foliage is the figure of a woman strumming a miniature lute or perhaps even her own chitarrino.  She is exemplifying the practical use of the instrument.  In general, music is seen as a frivolous activity, and can be equated to passion, love, and lovemaking.  There is a perfect parallel between the imagery on the Chitarrino and its practical purpose.

Marina B. Nebro

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