My dissertation investigates late medieval drawing and music production through a set of four manuscript partbooks, collectively known as F-CA Mss. 125-8. These partbooks are exceptional not only because the 146 paper folios of each book are enlivened by pen and wash drawings—a rarity for medieval music sources produced in the Netherlands—but recent scholarship has revealed that their music was copied by their original owner, Zeghere van Male (1512-1601). Van Male is a documented Catholic merchant and burgher of Bruges, and therefore far removed from the typical profile of a sixteenth-century music scribe. My own thesis focuses specifically on the social meanings of the partbooks, exploring the context in which they were used; van Male’s role as draughtsman; the social significance of his music copying and drawing; and the role of humour in domestic music performance.
With support from the British Archaeological Association’s Travel Grant in 2023, I was able to present two papers at conferences in the United Kingdom, both originating from my doctoral research.
The first, Visualising Pilgrimage in Sixteenth-Century Domestic Music, was delivered at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds and explored the semantic potential of word-image-music relations throughout the partbooks. I made the case that van Male intentionally associated drawings of pilgrimage with other signifiers across openings to criticise pilgrimage practice—in line with a number of other Catholic thinkers including Erasmus. In so doing, images functioned as prompts to navigate the subtleties of religious identity with friends and family in the domestic sphere.
The second, Singing to be Social: Domestic Music, Drawing and the Shaping of Bourgeois Identity in Sixteenth-Century Bruges, was delivered at the Society for Renaissance Studies Biennial Conference in Liverpool. Here, I reconstructed the original material context of the partbooks’ use, arguing that they were seen and performed from in a social dining context. Not only did images mediate music making, but also conversation and the consumption of food.
I received invaluable feedback at both conferences that will shape the direction of my doctoral thesis as I enter my third year. At Leeds I was prompted to think about the social significance of pilgrimage, and to what extent those performing from the partbooks saw themselves in the images. At Liverpool, I had thought-provoking debates as to the relationship between musical genre and the subjects represented in images. What, if any, was the relationship between images of food consumption and the music of the mass, for example?
All in all, both trips were very successful, and I benefited not only from the delivery of my papers, but also networking opportunities. I had much interest from publishers in developing my thesis into a monograph, as well as fascinating conversations with scholars whose work has inspired much of my own, such as Richard Wistreich. I would like to thank the Association sincerely for all their support.