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Medieval sacred art and music

The Western roots of a direct interplay between art and music lie in Christian liturgy. [3] The structure of the church building as the place where mass is celebrated emphasizes the special significance of music through the choir, which is immediately adjacent to the altar. Music is an indispensable part of the celebration of mass, and the artistic decoration of the altar is essential for the ceremonial process. Ostentatious medieval piety required staging that appealed to all the senses, like a religious Gesamtkunstwerk: the act of worship climaxing in the raising of the host is accompanied by singing, incense and the glow of candles - with the altarpiece as a pictorial setting. The variety of artistic contributions ranges from the decoration of the musical instruments via the miniature painting in the hymnbooks to panel painting.

The liturgical order determined the content of the art and music programme. The fixed Christian festivals in the liturgical calendar do not determine the choice of liturgical singing alone, they also affect the iconography of the altarpiece. This applies particularly


to the worship of Mary and saints that was widespread in the Middle Ages. This led to an expansion of the iconography of Mary in panel painting, and in liturgy to an increasing number of hymns venerating the Mother of God, which were sung on the appropriate feast days. One especially striking example of saint-worship is the altar painting by the Cologne master Stephan Lochner for the altar of the Three Kings.

In contrast with the Latin hymns, which ordinary people did not understand, and the theological content of the altarpieces, which had to be explained to laymen, a much more vivid way of conveying religious messages developed with the rise of mysticism. Mystery plays, particularly the Easter Passion Plays, emerged from the 12th century, and proved a fertile field of activity for painters, sculptors and musicians. They stimulated new musical and pictorial compositions. Performances required musical accompaniment, and at the same time new ritual figures were designed, like for example the Passion ass for the Palm Sunday play and the sculpture of Mary to be raised in the nave for the feast of the Assumption. Both music and art helped to stage a popular spectacle with religious content.

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