Painting and Music

1 Cautious Beginnings

Since ancient times explanatory models of the world have reflected an interest in assigning colors to sounds — in addition to postulating associations between the seasons, planets, elements, metals, and points of the compass — although this interest initially had no notable impact on painting. The different arts have also long been compared to one another in the domains of philosophy and aesthetics, though the comparisons usually pertain to certain partial aspects of the arts and seek to establish hierarchies between them. As early as the seventeenth century, fruitful links were made between color and sound, complexion and musical harmony, and drawing and melody.[1] These associations proliferated in the form of metaphors in art literature (e.g., a concert of color). The shining complexion of sixteenth-century Venetian painting, in particular, seemed very close to that of its sister art. The harmony of the colors was seen to resemble both the harmony of sounds and the interplay of different musical instruments. It is said to be no coincidence that Paolo Veronese depicted himself, Titian, and Tintoretto as musicians in his Wedding at Cana (1562/1563, Paris, Louvre). However, only occasional efforts were made prior to the eighteenth century to apply the formal principles of music to painting. While it is true that in 1647 Nicolas Poussin used ecclesiastical modes and their calculated application to obtain different musical effects in order to explain to a patron the need to attune a composition to its subject,[2] here Poussin was really using an analogous model to bolster his argument rather than developing a set of rules to be followed rigorously in painting.