Comparative Symbolization of the Incarnation in Visual Art and Music in the Ambience of Italy, 1400-1520

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Art and Music Histories


Abraham Veinus


Symbolism, Musical art, Italian Renaissance

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Music


The ultimate goal of this dissertation is the generation of philosophical statements about the capacities of visual art and of musical art to symbolize that which exists extra-pictorially and extra-musically so that the proposition "visual art is the concrete artistic medium, while musical art is the abstract artistic medium" can be tested inductively. To this end a system is devised comprised of two parts: (1) a common subject is chosen which is symbolized in both artistic media in a common historical time and place, here the theological notion of the Incarnation as set in both media in Italy 1400-1520; (2) Symbolic representations concerning the Incarnation in 63 visual works and in 22 musical works are classified according to that which is represented: concepts, qualities, or relationships; according to whether that which is represented is totally internal to the notion of the Incarnation or connected to reality external to it; and according to method of representation: by literal presentation, by metaphor, or by convention. Then the symbolizations of the two media are compared according to the categories. Although there are some historical conclusions that arise from a consideration of a concrete subject set in the Italian Renaissance period of history, they basically parallel the philosophical conclusions based on the following logic: the presence of a specific kind of symbolization in an artistic medium in the Italian Renaissance argues to the capacity of the medium in general for that kind of symbolization; the negative form of this proposition, however, is not valid: the lack of a specific kind of symbolization in the Italian Renaissance does not argue to the absence of that capacity in general. Based on an extensive chart of comparison of categories, the following general conclusion is reached: from the viewpoint of the Italian Renaissance musical art is in an overall general sense equal in capacity for symbolization to visual art both in that which is symbolized and in manner of symbolization, so that there is one sense in which it is not justified to refer to a medium as "the concrete medium" or "the abstract medium."


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