French-American Bridge for Medieval Musical Iconography

Digital humanities projects at IReMus: the EUTERPE Project


by Ershad Vaeztehrani

This seminar at the IReMus (Institut de recherche en Musicologie) on January 4 was organized by Fabien Guilloux, who is working on the Euterpe Project.

He started with a presentation of the IReMus and its history. IReMus was born in 2014 from three other musicology institutes: OMF (Observatoire Musical Français) and PLM (Patrimoine et Langage Musicale), which were two societies of musicology at Paris-Sorbonne University and the IRPMF (Institut de recherche sur le patrimoine musical en France). IreMus is a mixed research unit based on cooperation between different organisations such as: Paris-Sorbonne University, the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the National Library of France (BnF) and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. This institute has 64 permanent members alongside 50 associate members and 120 PhD students who work on different projects of the institute. IreMus has five principal research axes:

  1. Editing, Restoring and Enhancing Musical Heritage
    • Musical publishing reviews
    • Corpus and Collections
    • Performance, Musical Practice, and Recordings
  2. Writings about Music
    • Writings and letters of musicians
    • Press, journals and musical critics
    • Historiography and epistemology
  3. Music analysis
    • Analytical tools and methods
    • Analytical practice
    • Theory and History of musical theories
    • Notation
  4. Studying Historical, Cultural and Social Concepts
    • Musicians
    • Music Genre, repertoire and stylistic currents
    • Social and Institutional frameworks
    • Music and Religion
  5. Representation and Reception of the Music
    • Visual representation, Iconography and Organology
    • Pedagogy, Didactic, Cognition
    • Aesthetics and links with other Arts

Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco, Saint Cecilia and an Angel, Italian, 1582 – 1647, c. 1617/1618 and c. 1621/1627, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection









The Euterpe Project started in 1996 and currently its database encompasses 13000 images from 16th century to 1900. Right now it is being directed by Florence Gétreau (Director Emeritus of research at CNRS) and Fabien Guilloux (Ingenieur de recherche at CNRS). It is one of many other database projects supported by the IReMus such as Musiconis (Database for Medieval Images representing Music), TGM (database dedicated to writings about music theory from 1490 to 1650 in the Germanic sphere), and Borée (Database about Rameau, music writings, books and articles about him).

As Fabien Gouilloux mentioned, the history of humanities research projects on Musical Iconography in postwar France goes back to 1967 when the Laboratory of Organology and Musical Iconography (Laboratoire d’organologie et d’iconographie musicale) was founded by Geneviève Thibaut. In this laboratory researchers (most of them art historians) were using index cards to collect images to construct their database. The reason for the importance of such a laboratory is that the Euterpe and similar projects are working in the same research field of musical iconography. These projects aim to create a Database of images in which one can find different kinds of visual artworks that represent Music orrelated subjects from various historical periods. Obviously in the digital age, methods and equipment are different, but the old index cards have been digitalized for use in Euterpe. There are two different kinds of access for the site (free and private access) as there is always the problem of copyright for some images that are from private collections and museums. As the project is being sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of France, users of the site have free access to collections of different public museums in France such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. The principles of indexation in Euterpe follow the Ridim (Repertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale) guidelines. Four aspects of musical iconography are described in Euterpe: 1. Musical Instruments (on a Hornbostel-Sachs system which is adapted by the MIMO Project) 2. Musical Iconography themes 3. Music Notation 4. Musical Gesture. There are some future projects for this database, including increasing it with collections (such as the inner and outer decorations of Versaillese), Music Notation (NEUMA project), adding musical gestures of Harp and Bag-Pipe and integration into the Ridim database.

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