Trombone History: Cherubs Playing the Trombone

Introduction

In visual art, a cherub, or more strictly speaking, a putto, is an infant or toddler, almost always male and with wings, found especially in Baroque art. So what are they doing playing trombones in Renaissance and Baroque art? The main reason probably goes to the religious associations of the instrument, the trombone being an instrument that for many years performed primarily in church settings. (For more background on the trombone's religious associations, and for full citations for all of the sources in this article, see Trombone History Timeline. See also Angel Trombonists Throughout History.) Although there are numerous examples of angel-trombonists in art, it is interesting to note just how many depictions feature cherub-trombonists, no less so because the trombone would seem to be a particularly difficult instrument for an infant to play! Below are several such images, along with background information on each.


1516—Freiburg, Germany: Hans Baldung’s painting, Coronation of the Virgin, the central panel of an altarpiece located in the Freiburg Cathedral, includes a cherub-trombonist among a group of angels playing wind instruments above and to the left of the Virgin. The other instruments being played in the wind instrument group appear to be crumhorn and either shawm or cornetto (see detail below; public domain) (Burkhard pl. 2).

Detail, Hans Baldung, Coronation of the Virgin
Detail, Hans Baldung, Coronation of the Virgin

c. 1557—Murano, Italy: Paolo Caliari (also called Veronese) paints The Seven Planetary Gods on the ceiling of the first floor of Palazzo Trevisan. The fresco, which includes a cherub or putto playing trombone, is later transferred to canvas and housed in the Louvre, Paris (see middle-right of below image; public domain).

c. 1566—Cremona, Italy: Bolognese artist Orazio Samacchini paints a cherub (putto) holding a trombone in the Church of Sant'Abbondio (see detail below; public domain) (Bandera Fig. 66).

1578—Antwerp, Belgium: A set of masses by George de La Hele includes an image, a large initial D in front of a group of cherub musicians, that features a rear-facing trombone being played by a cherub (also rear-facing). Most of them perform from a central partbook (see below image; public domain; Wangermée vol. 1 167).

Engraving from set of masses by George de La Hele
Engraving from set of masses by George de La Hele

c. 1580—Milan, Italy: Aurelio Luini depicts a cherub-trombonist among other cherub-musicians in his fresco in Milan's San Simpliciano (see below image; public domain) (Kendrick, Sounds of Milan 77).

Aurelio Luini's fresco in Milan's San Simpliciano
Aurelio Luini's fresco in Milan's San Simpliciano

c. 1590—Loano, Italy: Battesimo di Gesu (Baptism of Jesus), a painting by Giulio Cesare Semino located in Chiesa di S. Agostino, includes a cherub playing trombone (see below image; public domain).

16th century—An anonymous print includes a trombone-playing cherub, or putto (see below detail; public domain) (source: Beaux-arts de Paris).

Detail, anonymous print
Detail, anonymous print

1611—Pieter de Witte (also known as Peter Candid) includes a cherub playing trombone in his drawing, Euterpe. Resting in front of the cherub-trombonist is a shawm, and the instruments being played on the other side of the image are transverse flute and cornetto (see below detail; public domain) (Volk-Knüttel 102).

Detail, Pieter de Witte, Euterpe
Detail, Pieter de Witte, Euterpe

1619—Derbyshire, England: An anonymous ceiling painting in the Heaven Room of Bolsover Castle shows Christ’s ascension, surrounded by angels. The outer circle of angels features angels with several different musical instruments, including trombone (see detail and full image below; public domain).

c. 1620—Italy: Italian Baroque painter Bernardo Strozzi includes a putto holding a trombone in the painting, Santa Cecilia con le teste di Valeriano e Tiburtio (see below image; public domain) (The Digital Library of the National Library of France).

Bernardo Strozzi, Santa Cecilia con le teste di Valeriano e Tiburtio
Bernardo Strozzi, Santa Cecilia con le teste di Valeriano e Tiburtio

c. 1620-24—Seville, Spain: The altarpiece of the Virgin of the Rosary of the Parish of Santa Ana, probably painted by Diego López Bueno and Miguel Cano, includes a depiction of a cherub playing trombone (see bottom-right of below image; public domain) (Alonso Cano 613).

c. 1629—Venice, Italy: Veronese artist Fra Semplice da Verona includes a depiction of a cherub playing trombone in Infant Jesus and Musical Angels, an image framing a pre-existing Madonna in the Convento del Redentore (see below detail; public domain) (Portogruaro, plate 37). Other instruments being played (but not shown in the detail below) include cornetto, viol, violin, and lute.

Detail, Fra Semplice da Verona, Infant Jesus and Musical Angels
Detail, Fra Semplice da Verona, Infant Jesus and Musical Angels

c. 1640—Carmona, Spain: Juan de Castillo’s Inmaculada Concepción in Convento de la Trinidad includes a putto playing trombone (see middle-right of below image; public domain).

c. 1650—Bohemian artist Wenzel Hollar includes a trombone-playing putto in his print, Concert of Putti in the Clouds (see below image; public domain) (Wenceslas Hollar Digital Collection, University of Toronto, Pl. P500).

Wenzel Hollar, Concert of Putti in the Clouds
Wenzel Hollar, Concert of Putti in the Clouds

1658—Schöningen, Germany: Jonas Weigel completes the organ for St. Vincenzkirche, which includes a sculpture of an cherub-trombonist on the organ case (see below detail; public domain). The cherub-musician on the opposite side, not shown, plays the cornetto.

St. Vincenzkirche organ case, Schningen, German
St. Vincenzkirche organ case, Schningen, German

1689—Seville, Spain: The church of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes, with walls and ceiling painted by Juan Valdés and his son Lucas Valdés, is completed. Among the numerous instrument-playing cherubs depicted on the ceiling is a cherub playing the trombone (see detail below; public domain).

Detail, ceiling painting in church of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes. Walls and ceiling painted by Juan and Lucas Valdés.
Detail, ceiling painting in church of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes. Walls and ceiling painted by Juan and Lucas Valdés.

1704-14—Saalfeld, Germany: Carlo Ludovico Castelli paints a trombone-playing cherub in Saalfeld’s Schlosskapelle (see below image; public domain).

Carlo Ludovico Castelli, painting in Saalfeld’s Schlosskapelle
Carlo Ludovico Castelli, painting in Saalfeld’s Schlosskapelle

c. 1715—Vienna, Austria: A fresco above the organ loft in Vienna's Peterskirche (St. Peter's church) depicts cherubs playing trombone and bassoon (see below image; public domain).

Detail, fresco above organ loft in Vienna's Peterskirche
Detail, fresco above organ loft in Vienna's Peterskirche

Sources

Burkhard, Arthur. The Freiburg Altar of Hans Baldung. Munich: F. Bruckmann, 1970.

Kendrick, Robert L. The Sounds of Milan, 1585-1650. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Portogruaro, Davide M da. Paolo Piazza, ossia P. Cosmo da Castelfranco: pittore cappuccino, 1560-1620. Venice: Libreria emiliana editrice, 1936.

Volk-Knüttel, Brigitte. Peter Candid: Zeichnungen. Munich: Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, 1978.

Wangermée, Robert, and Philippe Mercier. La musique en Wallonie et a Bruxelles, vol. 1. [Belgique]: La Renaissance de Livre, 1980.

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