An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

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An introduction to music research

3.4 Composer portraits

One kind of image that may be of particular interest to the music researcher is the portrait. Portraits of composers can be found in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery (including photographic images as well as paintings or drawings). The images themselves can be fascinating, but you could also study the ways in which they have been catalogued. When does a ‘musician’ become a ‘composer’, for instance?

Activity 9

Use the ‘profession’ free-text search box on the Advanced Search [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] page of the National Portrait Gallery’s website to look for various music professionals. You might start with ‘musician’ and see what comes up; then follow with ‘composer’, ‘violinist’ or ‘bandleader’.

Based on your knowledge of the people whose images are returned by the search, what might these terms suggest about the kinds of music associated with this terminology?

You ought also to compare the numbers of male and female sitters that are returned by the various searches.

  • What does that suggest?
  • Does it make a difference if you restrict your search to living subjects?
  • Are there any female figures who have been painted or photographed more than others?

In addition, of course, you might look at the kinds of images that are returned by the search.

  • What poses are adopted?
  • How do the objects included in a portrait reflect the profession of the subject?

Clearly there are many questions that are presented by a simple archive of images, and you may well have thought of others.


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