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The Unbearable Insignificance of Music

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The Unbearable Insignificance of Music

I was reading Paul Johnson's Art: A New History the other day and was struck by something he mentioned regarding the commissioning of a new set of  bronze doors for the baptistry of the cathedral in Florence in 1401. There was a competition for the job and it was won by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 - 1455). He eventually did two sets of doors which took him fifty years! You have to understand that these were very large doors displaying scenes from the Bible in low-relief sculpture:

Click to enlarge

To give you an idea of the enormity of the project and the importance to the city-state of Florence, the cost came to 22,000 florins which was equal to the entire Florentine defence budget! [Johnson, op. cit. p. 233]

I mention this to point to the enormous significance the arts had in early modern European society. There is a musical connection, not to the bronze doors, but to the construction of the new cathedral itself, consecrated on March 25, 1436. The music commissioned for this event was Nuper rosarum flores by Guillaume Dufay. I can't track down what he was paid for this work, but I'm pretty sure that it was not anywhere near the cost of the cathedral, or even one of the doors. Dufay did pretty well, but music never paid as well as architecture or sculpture.

Still, it is sobering to realize that our ancestors placed such enormous value on both religion and the arts that ornamented and illustrated religion that they would compare with an item as huge as the budget for defence of the state. The arts in contemporary society are of very tiny significance in comparison. Even if you are Billie Eilish or Adele.

Here is Dufay's Nuper rosarum flores:





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