12 May 2014

Hurdy-Gurdy: Contemporary Destinations (IV)

Presence of the hurdy-gurdy during the Renaissance

The period between the late Medieval and early Baroque holds very special significance to the perception of the hurdy-gurdy in Western culture. Its presence in folklore and popular culture has been documented by numerous paintings – among the most popular ones is the one of Hieronymus Bosch depicting a typical renaissance instrument with the first-ever documented buzzing bridge’ called trompette. Since the painting came in existence around 1505, it is believed that the idea of this rhythmical device attached to the body of the instrument became popular in the late Fifteenth Century.[1]

Fragment of the triptych known as "The Garden of Early Delights” (by H.Bosch) depicting renaissance hurdy-gurdy[2]

During that time, the instrument was firmly associated with the world of travelling artists and blind beggars earning their living by playing at festivities, weddings and funerals. Since physical blindness was very often considered a result of mental and spiritual impairment, the instruments became associated with the world of sin and representing demonic presence. As such, the instrument was perceived by many – especially the upper class of society – as impure.

This misconception did not stop hurdy-gurdy players from become sought-after, popular entertainers among peasantry and lesser nobility. Many artists – especially painters – were able to see through the artificial prejudice of social layers and gladly portrayed hurdy-gurdy players as elements of local folklore inspiring a world of rural beliefs and fables. Many captured the mysticism of both the instrument and its player, conveying their unique aura.

"hurdy-gurdy player" by Georges de la Tour (mid. XVII C.)[3]

[1] Source: http://www.gurdy.co.uk (accessed August 2012)
[2] Source: http://www.hieronymus-bosch.org/ (accessed August 2012)
[3] Source: http://www.abbeville.com (accessed August 2012)

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