October was a busy month for events relating to URBANMUSICS. Both Ascension and I were involved in them, and I give a brief report of each here.
On Monday 9 October 2017, the historian Joan-Lluis Palos organized a seminar entitled Espacios devocionales. Prácticas religiosas de las mujeres y transferencias culturales en el siglo XVI which formed part of his excellent ongoing project Poder i Representacions Culturals a l’Época Moderna based at the Àrea d’Història Moderna at the Universitat de Barcelona. The concept of the seminar was to look at those spaces in which women were able, in the early modern period, to find some autonomy, able to make their own decisions and express themselves through devotional practice and cultural inclination. The private chapels of noblewomen provided such a space and furthermore became important centres for cultural interaction and transmission, especially where the daughters of royalty and nobility married into dynasties within or beyond the boundaries of their own sphere of influence and power. As Joan Lluis-Palos pointed out, the private chapels of women have quite often been studied by art historians, but the potential for the decoration and ceremonies of these devotional and cultural spaces to reflect the interests and activities of their female creators and users has rarely been considered. The four papers presented four different—though in many ways—related examples: Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita (Universidad Internacional de La Rioja) focused on the chapel of the Palau de la Comtessa in sixteenth-century Barcelona, both a private and a public devotional space created at the heart of the city by the Requesens family; Eleonora Belligni (Università degli Studi di Torino) looked at the confessional conflict that arose from the marriage of Renate of France to the Ercole II Duke of Ferrara in 1528 and the transference of French protestantisim into the heart of Catholic Italy; Magdalena Sánchez (Gettysburg College, USA) analyzed Marian devotional practices in the private chapel of the Infanta Caterina Micaela as Duchess of Savoy in Turin, showing how Castilian practices were taken up and sometimes combined with local tendencies; and Joan-Lluis Palos (Universitat de Barcelona) studied the chapel of Eleanor of Toledo in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence following her marriage into the Medici family, an excellent example of how space, culture and devotional practice could amount to a political statement. All these case studies demonstrated the extent to which devotional practice and cultural patronage on the part of these women were inextricably linked, and illustrated the resulting transference of these practices and tendencies to new spheres of influence. It was a fascinating morning that opened up a major new line of inquiry.
Women’s cultural involvement and devotional practice was one of the main themes of the international conference organized by María Ángeles Pérez Samper, also of the early modern history department of the UB, Rosa María Alabrús (Universitat Abat Oliba CEU)), and Mónica Piera the following week (18-20 October 2-17) with the title: Vivir y creer en la época moderna. Mónica Riera (president of the Associació per a l’Estudi del Moble), was also responsible for the marvelous exhibition ‘Les dones també seuen. Mobles i espais feminins dels segles XVI i XVII’ (‘Women also sit: feminine furniture and spaces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’) at the Clarissan monastery of Pedralbes, one of the architectural and cultural jewels of the city of Barcelona. Her paper discussed the low chairs (‘sillas baxas’) used by women for a variety of activities and in a variety of contexts during the period, but always as a signal and a reminder of male authority. Like a number of papers throughout the conference, post-mortem inventories were used as a starting-point for the discussion of the social uses and meanings of specific material objects. Mariela Fargas (UB), for example, took jewellery as a case in point and swept us through a whirlwind tour of just how many aspects of daily life, social status and cultural patrimony could be approached through the study of the ownership of jewels. Among the areas she proposed as potentially rewarding through the transversal culture of jewelleries were: circulation of power; monopoly of luxury items; strategies to create social distinction; the culture of the gift; private and public memory; and the intimacy of personal objects. Ana García Sanz (Patrimonio Nacional) focused on a specific object: the figures of the baby Jesus that were owned by many people, men and women, during the period. I have often come across the ‘Jesuset’ in the post-mortem inventories I have studied, and noticed how often the figures were dressed in sumptuous clothing and studded with jewels: they came in every shape, size and form, and were also multifunctional, serving for devotional purposes in private oratories and chapels and the home in general. Carolina Naya (Universidad de Zaragoza) described miniature breviaries or books of hours made as items of jewellery from precious metals and stones; were often worn hanging from a belt of leather or ribbon, along with other items such as small silver bells, miniatures of saints and crucifixes. A number of papers brought to life these kinds of household and devotional objects that formed part of the possessions of ordinary citizens inventoried at the time of their death.
The range of papers was vast and included everyday activities and practices as well as material objects. María Ángeles Pérez’s survey of the introduction of the coffee house into Barcelona around 1700 was fascinating, as was Inmaculada Arias de Saavedra’s (Universidad de Granada) identification of the devotional literature in circulation in eighteenth-century Spain. It struck me quite forcibly that much of this literature originated in the sixteenth century and early seventeenth century—notably the works of fray Luis de Granada and St Teresa de Jesús, as well as the old stalwart of devotional reading in the home from late medieval times, the Flos sanctorum. It seems that, as with certain polyphonic works from the same period, these texts had become classics that were complemented over time by new contributions to the genre, but were not actually supplanted. This was a conference full of insights into a whole range of objects and practices pertaining to daily life in the early modern period.
The third event took place in Évora (one of the most beautiful of Portuguese towns) under the auspices of the university, at the Colégio Mateus d’Aranda (26-28 October 2017): Paisagem Sonora Histórica e Património Musical das Cidades. Again, the programme comprised two and a half days packed with interesting papers, all of which related in some way to the concept of the historical soundscape. Again it’s impossible to mention, or even list, every contribution, so I will just make some general comments on activity in the field and single out a few highlights. It is clear that the field of urban soundscapes is attracting a good deal of new and often excellent research, from the more descriptive groundwork of adding new cities and towns to those that have already been studied to the analysis of more specific features. Seville, Granada, Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga and Naples all featured, but so did Braga, Vila Viçosa, Rio de Janeiro, Portalegre and, above all, Évora itself: much of this research activity focuses on a later chronological period (the nineteenth century and early twentieth century) when documentation, maps and existing buildings make it possible to chart soundscapes in greater detail. The Évora studies, for example, involved, monasteries, churches, theatres, the cathedral and music societies. It’s clear that the opening up of the geography of sound studies is important and brings with it new possibilities for comparative studies, which, as I said in my key-note talk, is one of the directions to be followed in future studies. Such an approach is fraught with difficulties, not least the chronological aspect; such profound social, religious, commercial and political changes occurred over the course of the second half of the eighteenth century that there appears to be a clear watershed in terms of studies before and after this period. Continuities existed, of course, and it is often difficult to disentangle the evolution of, say, the institutional structures and, even more so, the mentalities of the urban complex in a given period. Nevertheless, we need to be able to articulate and chart difference, continuity, change and variation in the urban soundscape across a range of city types, topographies, geographies and networks of transmission, not to mention the variety in the conservation and accessibility of primary sources to enable us to do this. Juan Ruiz Jiménez’s on-line digital platform ‘Historical Soundscapes / Paisajes sonorous históricos’, which formed the subject of his key-note talk right at the beginning of the conference, offers the kind of flexible tool that is now transforming the digital humanities. This is definitely an important way forward, although the practical aspects of hosting a number of different cities within a single platform will present significant challenges in the future. At the least, this platform should and could be taken as a model for studies of cities in other regions.
Another concern is how to get beyond the descriptive to broach the more hermeneutical aspects relating to urban sound studies; this quite clearly becomes more difficult the further back in time such studies go, but needs to be attempted for all periods. Particularly interesting in this respect was Beatriz Helena Furlanetto’s presentation of her recent book entitled Paisagem sonora du boi de mamão paranense: uma geografia emocional which takes a specific kind of urban event (in the Paraná region of Brazil) as a multisensorial phenomenon through which it is possible to seek to chart the emotional geography of those who attended and participated. Historical soundscapes evoke a sense of identity, of place, and the location of social groups and individuals, but also outline patterns of belonging, networking and social integration. These elements are essential to an understanding or deep reading of the impact of sound, both in terms of production and reception, and of the dynamic between sound and space, in different urban contexts.
TK 1 November 2017