Lorenzo Costa: The Concert

Lorenzo Costa’s The Concert was probably painted in the Italian city of Ferrara around 1490. It is one of my favourite paintings displayed at the National Gallery in London. As professional musicians would then have been too poor to commission their own portraits, the piece was likely destined for a wealthy patron or his music room. See how the central singer keeps an eye on the music book, his two colleagues tapping the beat on the marble ledge before them. They appear to be harmonising judging by the different shapes of their mouths. The woman holds onto the leader while the other man watches him carefully, to ensure they complement him, rather than rival or detract from his voice. A fiddle and recorder lay in front of them, which the two side singers might soon take up to accompany the central figure’s lute.

Capturing music in a painting is no easy feat, but Costa achieves it as well he possibly can. Though they are absolutely still and silent, one might detect the beautiful sound each produces, and the wonderful effect their combined voices make. The three singers make an excellent team; whichever Italian lord or merchant hired them was likely satisfied by their effort. I love it when I hear harmony in our own singing at Salem Chapel. Although I would be disinclined to have a choir with flowing robes and pious expressions, a singing congregation may combine their different sounds and abilities to produce a concerted euphony. Indeed, whatever form our Christian service takes, may we intertwine ourselves with others, subtly harmonising and complementing, rather than becoming a collection of competing soloists and vocal prime donne.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. Psalm 133:1-3