Women’s History Month 2016: Poster Girls

(Previous WHM2016 posts: NUNS!, Courtly Ladies)

This week in Women’s History Month, it’s time to break down how women have been represented in art across Western history with instruments, and in particular, brass instruments.

In many cases, women holding trombones and cornettos in early art history are depicted as muses, angels, or mythological figures, and it is uncertain whether the models come from real-life inspiration.

Trombonist as Muse

credit: Will Kimball

Here we see Polyhymnia, muse of sacred poetry and hymns, in her natural element as trombone player. This is from a series of engravings done by Franz Brun in the 1570s depicting all nine muses (1). Why would Brun choose to give Polyhymnia a trombone? At the time, trombone served a significant role in church ensembles, providing a┬ástrong compliment to vocal lines that in larger groups imitated the sound of organ. Even as it blended well with vocal lines and organ accompaniment, it did not obscure text or meaning in the way other instruments’ textures might, and was seen as a way of enhancing spiritual communication (2). Thus, our muse of sacred poetry and hymns would know her way around a trombone, the literal muse of the religious world.