Singing in Nidaros Cathedral?

Viggo Jønsson About the author

Figure 1:  Detail from ivory chest (1300 – 1310), the scene Lit de la merveille (Assaut du château d’amour et scènes de romans courtois et de romans de chevalerie). Foto © RMN, M. Urtado I © Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris 2008 • IC 40 0638

Thanks to the journal for the particularly interesting article Sickness in Nidaros Cathedral? in the Easter issue (1). Geir Jacobsen and Erlend Hem document that the woman’s head is unlikely to be a depiction of leprosy. Could it be that this is the face of a person singing? Doesn’t it resemble someone who is singing – mouth half open, a distant, not fully fixed expression in the eyes, the head slightly inclined (the Melton woman), just as when singing? After all, vocal music belongs in a cathedral.

Recently I visited the Cluny Museum in Paris, where I took a guided tour. We were presented to facia la bel canto, a sculptural style from the 13th–14th centuries with singing figures, for example on an ivory chest with figures from the medieval ballad of the assault of the villainous knights on the castle of Eros (Figure 1).

The virgins defended themselves successfully by singing. In my opinion, their faces may be similar to those in Nidaros cathedral. On the ivory frieze it is obvious that the virgins are singing, and we can see the rhythmic movements of their limbs, bodies and gowns, with the head inclined to one side and mouth half open, but otherwise a normal facial expression. Isn’t this similar to the figures in Trondheim?

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