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The Gendering of the Lute in Sixteenth-Century French Love Poetry [*].

Blame not my lute for he must sound Of this or that as liketh me.

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Lute-poems came into vogue in France in the 1540s and 1550s. Because of the lute's shape, it could be gendered either as masculine or feminine; male and female poets therefore made use of lute imagery in different ways. Their references to the lute are informed by the gendered culture surrounding the instrument in this period and by the etiquette and technicalities of lute playing. Even more than painters and engravers, poets could invest the lute with human qualities, conflating it with bodies and body parts. It could thus be adapted to serve a variety of amorous scenarzos.

The "lute-poem" -- a short lyric text in which the poetic subject personifies the lute as a muse, companion, or confidant -- was a popular genre among French poets in the 1540s and 1550s, during the final years of the reign of Francois I, and that of Henri II. [1] The convention of addressing a poem to a string instrument originated with classical poets' invocation of inspiring deities through references to the lyre. [2] But literary imitation was not the only factor that contributed to the evolution of the sixteenth-century lute-poem. The vogue for these texts arose with the emergence of a written repertoire for the lute in Europe and with the flourishing of this instrument as a vehicle for the artistic expression of courtiers and the cultivated bourgeoisie. [3] More than any other musical instrument, the lute helped break down the remaining medieval barriers between amateur and professional musicians, as the practice of instrumental music expanded beyond specialized corporations of minstrels to be integrat ed into the education of the upper classes. [4] The lute-poem flourished among the poets of the so-called Pleiade group and also among those who lived in Lyons, which was a prosperous center of lutherie and a hub for the printing and diffusion of Italian lute tablatures in the middle third of the century. [5] Some of the poets who composed lute-poems were accomplished lutenists; others had the rudimentary familiarity with the instrument one might expect from literati who were often present at its playing. [6]

One intriguing feature of French poems is the attention they devote to the iconography of the lute -- both the "anatomy" of the instrument and the way the player holds it -- as exemplified in the opening lines of a sonnet by Amadis Jamyn:

When I see her so gracious and lovely,

Plucking so gently the strings

Of the pleasant lute, and matching her voice

To the soft pitch spoken by the highest string, My whole heart leaps, thrilled with pleasure. [7]

The tension that drives many lute-poems originates not so much in the vicissitudes of unrequited love or failing health or professional ambition (although all these motifs occur) [8] as in the nuances of the interaction between player, instrument, and/or spectator. Cradled gently in the arms and caressed by the fingers, the lute -- more than any other instrument -- perfectly complemented the human form. [9] In the hands of a Renaissance gentleman or lady it constituted more than an agent for music-making; the lute was an adornment. [10]

Instructions on posture included in the seventeenth-century manuscript known as the "Burwell Lute Tutor" confirm the paramount importance of the visual effect obtained in lute playing:

One must... sit upright in playing to show no constraint or pains, to have a smiling countenance, that the company may not think you play unwillingly, and [to] show that you animate the lute as well as the lute does animate you. Yet you must not stir your body nor your head, nor show any extreme satisfaction in your playing. You must make no mouths, nor bite your lips, nor cast your hands in a flourishing manner that relishes of a fiddler. In one word, you must not less please the eyes than the ears. ... All the actions that one does in playing of the lute are handsome; the posture is modest, free and gallant, and do not hinder society. The shape of the lute is not so troublesome; and whereas other instruments constrain the body, the lute sets it in an advantageous posture. When one plays of the virginal he turns his back to the company. The viol entangleth one in spreading the arms, and openeth the legs (which doth not become man, much less woman). The beauty of the arm, of the hands and of the neck are adva ntageously displayed in playing of the lute. [11]

These instructions pertain to lutenists of either sex but their concern for decorum is particularly addressed to women, so intimately associated with this instrument in Renaissance culture. According to Julia Craig-McFeely, in England between 1530 and 1630 far more lute pieces were dedicated to women than to men (1994, 8). In France, as Jean-Michel Vaccaro has noted, Lyonnais literature from the middle decades of the sixteenth century constitutes a veritable apology for women lutenists (35).

The lute's anatomy -- its rounded belly, its "worthy voluptuousness" [12] -- reinforced connections with notions of femininity and especially fertility, by evoking pregnancy. While the lute could symbolize voluptas in the positive sense of the term (that is, music-making as a pleasant pastime, as solace, as a source of mind-body equilibrium), it could also connote the vita voluptuosa, with its illicit gratification, its excess and dissipation. In a series of paintings attributed to the Master of the Female Half-Lengths (active in Antwerp c. 1520-1530), the artist represents Mary Magdalen as a wealthy courtesan by casting her as a lutenist (fig. 1). [13] There was a contradiction inherent in the common pictorial image of the Renaissance lady with her lute, for the instrument made her at once respectable and desirable.

This instrument's rounded shape invited more explicitly crude correlations with the human anatomy, and Renaissance writers, as Daniel Heartz has observed, "did nor forbear invoking the most obvious anagram of luc" (65). [14] In her study on Rabelais and Music, Nan Carpenter cites an instance in which Rabelais treats the phrase "jouer du luc" in a vulgar sense, when one of his characters relates that he has seen "big captains in the battle camp ... sway to and fro, play the lute [luc], sound from the rump [cul]." [15] The anonymous author of the 1556 Poitiers treatise on lute and guitar construction (who may have been Jacques Peletier Du Mans) puns on luc and cul too, when listing the variant spellings of the term for the lute in sixteenth-century French: "Our fathers taught us to say 'luc' and not 'lut'; witness the little joke of good mates, who say that mademoiselle knows well how to play the [ Upside down LUC] upended." [16]

Albert de Mirimonde asserts that because of precisely this type of lewd insinuation, we seldom see Saint Cecilia depicted as a lutenist in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century art. [17] An image of a woman with a lute, if not belonging to an allegorical series (the Muses or the Liberal Arts), was ever subject to erotic interpretations.

According to Richard Leppert, by the seventeenth century the lute had become a common attribute of procuresses and prostitutes, who carried it with them into public houses as a mark of their profession (60). Craig-Mc-Feely notes that by the middle of the century the lute had become a metaphor for sex. The Flemish for lute, luit, was also the word for "vagina," which explains a host of pictorial images from the Low Countries representing prostitutes holding lutes. [18] In sixteenth-century poetry we already find lute-playing cited among the former accomplishments of Joachim Du Bellay's aging courtesan. [19] Likewise, the "ideal mistress" described in Pierre de Ronsard's ode to Peletier Du Mans is graced with a lascivious hand, equally well suited to either lute-playing or love-making:

[With] a naive spirit, and naive grace:

A lascivious hand, whether she [or it] embraces

Her lover, lying in her lap,

Or whether [she/it] plays her lute,

And with a voice that even surpasses her lute. [20]

The third-person feminine subject pronoun of the second line (also implied in the fourth) may be read as referring either to the woman or to her hand, since "hand" (main) is feminine in French.

In lute-poems, male and female poets alike cultivated ambiguity in pronouns in order to construct the lute as a gendered body and subject it to rhetorical manipulations serving their metapoetic agendas. It should be noted as well that in none of the texts discussed below does the lute appear spelled as luc, except for the riddle-poem by Madeleine de l'Aubespine, which is later than the others. There the word does not appear in the sonnet itself but at the end, as the solution to the riddle. The creators of lute-poems avoid the facile erotic implications of the expression "jouer du luc" in order to praise an instrument they call the luth, leuth, or lut.


While it is impossible to establish a precise chronology for the dates of composition of lute-poems from the mid-sixteenth century, Mellin de Saint-Gelais's Sur un luth (unpublished during his life-time) can be viewed as a prototype for the genre. This text exhibits the principal themes upon which other poets would compose their variations: in the first ten lines an encomium to the lute, ostensibly a gift from the subject's beloved; in the next six a reflection on whether singing and playing might not be the best remedy for what ails him; [21] and in the last eight a request that the lute, rather than helping to extinguish the flame of his own passion, might assist him in igniting the lady's:

O lute, more valued possession

Than anything I have at present;

Lute, having come from the worthy place

Where my heart is captured and held;

Lute, which responds to my thoughts

As soon as they are formed;

Lute, which I have made so many nights

Judge and witness to my suffering,

Not being able to see near to me

The one who had you so near to her;

I beg you, make me understand

How, touching that tender hand,

Your wood escaped the fire

That has succeeded so well in engulfing me,

And if it could be extinguished

With much singing and lamenting.

May it please God, Lute, that your voice

Might go where I see with my heart,

So that my torment, well heard,

Might bring back a "yes."

Then you would do me greater service

Than did formerly the Thracian Harp,

Which made mountains move;

You would bring a dead man back to life. [22]

The Orpheus of classical myth relied on his harp or lyre to secure the release of his bride Eurydice from the underworld. Here, in a reversal of the traditional roles, this Renaissance Orpheus asks his lute to assist him in winning Eurydice so that he might be restored to life. Saint-Gelais's poem actually depicts two distinct performances, one by the lady (from whose fiery touch the lute has miraculously emerged unscathed), and one by the gentleman who now holds the instrument and uses it to woo her.

As a logical consequence of this emphasis on the lute as intermediary as object of exchange between lovers, we find lute-poems turning up in pairs in Lyonnais canzonieri: in Maurice Sceve's Delie (1545) and in book 2 of Pontus de Tyard's Erreurs amoureuses (1551). In two consecutive dizains in the Delie, Sceve stages contrasting scenarios. In one the subject delights in playing the lute himself; in the other he becomes a forlorn spectator as his beloved takes her turn with the instrument. Dizain 344 describes three progressive phases of interaction between the lover and his lute. First he marvels at the ideal mind-body balance he can achieve, as the lute's tones perfectly mirror the state of his soul. Next he concedes the instrument's essential independence, lauding its ability to influence his moods, stating that its harmonies do not resemble his. [23] Finally, he evokes the lute's potential usefulness to the project of conquering Delie, calling on the instrument to supplement his poetic voice, both to supp ort and surpass it:

Resonant lute, with the sweet sound of strings,

And the accord of my affection,

How well you tune

Your harmony to fit my passion!

When I am without occupation

You incite my spirit so ardently,

That now to joy, now to mourning, 'you move me,

With your harmonies, so unlike mine.

For you declaim to her my woes better than I,

Corresponding to my trembling sighs. [24]

As a singer's instrument, comparable to the painter's brush, the lute serves to express maulux: literally "woes," but also, by sonorous implication, "words" (mots). So the instrument bridges the gap between the poetic voice and the written text. The second-person subject pronoun of the second-to-last-line assumes a double function, designating both the lute and the text it has helped to generate.

In the dizain that follows, the lute-text usurps the place in Delie's arms that the poem's subject had envisioned for himself and becomes a rival in competition for her affection. So as to continue the identification of instrument and text established in the previous dizain, no antecedent is given for the familiar "you" (tu) here:

In her arms, oh happy one, near to her heart,

She clasps you with great delight

And rebuffs me with great vigor,

Drawing from you her joy and her happiness,

From me laments, tears, and mortal sadness,

Far from the pleasure that she finds in you.

But when she takes you in her arms

You do not feel her harmful flame

Which, day and night, without touching her, makes me

Happily, miserable for her. [25]

The expression of astonishment at the lute's ability to withstand the flames of passion (perhaps borrowed from Saint-Gelais, or the inverse) seems to endow the instrument and therefore the text as well with miraculous powers of regeneration. It becomes an entity comparable to popular emblematic figures such as the salamander (Francois I's device), capable of passing through fire, or the phoenix, rising eternally from its ashes. The lute-text is immortal, even if the poet-lover is not. Also notable is the use of the verb comprendre, strategically placed at the end of the sixth line, just before the concluding quatrain. This verb reappears in lute-sonnets by Pontus de Tyard and Louise Labe, again prominently placed. It denotes both "to contain" and "to understand." Therefore, in Sceve's text it further reinforces the lute-text's identity as a corporeal projection of the subject's person - as a bodily member which, because it touches the lady (and he does not), threatens to supplant him as the object of her inte rest.

In a pair of sonnets from Tyard's Erreurs amoureuses (numbers 23 and 24 in book 2), the male subject similarly praises the lute for its companionship and service, and then enlists its aid as a messenger vis-a-vis the female be-loved. But Tyard, more than Sceve, stresses the sensuality inherent in the notion of the lute-as-body, drawing implications from the fact that the instrument rests against the lady's bosom as she plays:

Lute, faithful comfort, and sure witness

To my sighs and languishing labors,

Of whom often the ravishing harmonies

Have made me suffer a double death in dying,

You have long lamented with me the wrongs

Of two sweet eyes, brilliant suns,

Which have refused me the fruit of their efforts

To lighten my dark shadows.

Go, happy one; and if these white hands,

And if these celestially human arms

Deign so to honor you as to take you,

May in your sounds be so sweetly presented

The customary harmonies of my sorrows

That she might comprehend my love. [26]

Lute which for a time, to ease my pain,

Accompanied me to this solitary place;

Lute, sweet solace, faithful secretary

Of the sorrow that filled my soul;

How many times have I heard the nightingale

Cease singing, to listen to your dying sounds?

Then suddenly imitate your regrets

With the sweet accents of the sad mourning she endures?

You were the organ for my dolorous laments,

And now that you serve so happily

As virtuous pleasure for those two ivory hands,

Act as my spy; at least find out if there remains

In her celestial bosom (your rich resting place)

Some sighing memory of me. [27]

The parallel positions occupied by comprendre (the last word of sonnet 23) and memoire (the last word of sonnet 24) indicate that this subject wishes to be "comprehended" (understood, contained) in the sense of being "remembered": re-membered or reconstituted in the lady's arms. The "organ" of mediation will be the lute-text, characterized here as a "virtuous" or "worthy" pleasure (honneste esbat) -- which, in such a suggestive, body-centered context, seems almost an oxymoron. [28]

The poetic subject of a sonnet from Guillaume de La Tayssonere's Amoureuses ocupations (1555), addressed to the "Demoyzelles de Chanein et d'Estours," also projects himself onto the lute. He cites lute-playing along with needlework as one of the feminine accomplishments that so occupy these young ladies as to prevent them from heeding his professions of love. Then he all but transforms himself into a lute, in the hope of capturing their attention, begging them to "hear the amorous tone" that sounds "from the hollow of [his] wounded soul." [29] The unspoken implication is that as a lute, he could enjoy being embraced by them, rather than ignored.


As a symbol of the body, the lute was androgynous, possessing male as well as female characteristics. In Renaissance paintings, as Line Pouchard notes, we often find the male lutenist and his instrument depicted amidst a group of musicians in erotic poses, the lute's long phallic neck protruding suggestively: for example, Caravaggio's The Musicians (fig. 2). [30] The lute is also featured, usually with other instruments, in scenes of debauchery, such as those of the prodigal son dining with male revelers and courtesans. [31] In a series of Fontainebleau School etchings by Leon Davent (after Luca Penni) representing the Seven Deadly Sins, the depiction of "Lust" includes a tondo that features a lutenist serenading a woman who pours water on his head, presumably to "quench the flames." [32] In view of the proliferation of Renaissance images of this sort, one is hardly surprised to find the female subject of Louise Labe's second sonnet listing the lute along with her beloved's smile, brow, hair, arms, hands and fingers, as if it too were part of his body: [33] "So many torches to enflame a woman!" [34]

Labe's Evvres (1555) include two lute-sonnets, which can be read as female ripostes to texts by her male contemporaries. In sonnet 12 she reprises the "joy to mourning" motif of Sceve's dizain 344 and uses it to revisit the ancient theme of the rebellious lyre. Here the subject actually engages in a struggle for pre-eminence with her lute, to which the text attributes an unprecedented degree of poetic agency. [35] After the requisite invocation of the lute as a faithful confidant, its player complains in the second quatrain that the instrument has been so accustomed to lament with her, in perfect accord with her melancholy, that when she attempts a joyful song the lute thwarts her impulse by flatting a pitch that should be natural, thereby creating a mournful effect. 'When she persists in her intent to change moods, the instrument compels her to silence by putting itself out of tune:

Lute, my companion in misfortune,

Faultless witness to my sighs,

True narrator of my troubles,

You have often lamented with me.

And the pitiful weeping has so afflicted you,

That beginning some delightful song

You suddenly made it mournful,

By altering the pitch that had been sung as plain.

And if I wish to persuade you otherwise,

You slacken your strings and thus constrain me to silence.

But seeing myself tenderly sighing,

Looking favorably on my sad lament,

I am compelled to take pleasure in my sorrow,

And hope for a sweet end to sweet suffering. [36]

Recent editors of Labe's works have interpreted the second quatrain of this sonnet as referring to transposition from a "major" to a "minor" mode. [37] But sixteenth-century music theorists do not speak of transposing from major to minor. [38] Labe in fact employs precise Renaissance musical terms in line eight: feignant, which denotes the introduction of an accidental into a musical line, to modify a particular pitch; and plein, to denote an unaltered pitch. Thus, the quatrain alludes to a specific compositional practice -- that of lowering a pitch that should be natural (in the given mode), so as to suggest weeping. A classic example is found in the second phrase of Jacques Arcadelt's madrigal "Il bianco e dolce cigno" (contemporary with Labe and well-known in Europe), where the composer flats the harmony on the word piangendo (fig. 3). [39]

In Labe's sonnet the lute's capriciousness creates a dissonance between singer and instrument, mind and body. It can be inferred from her allusion to strings that slacken (line 10) that in taking up the lute this female subject has appropriated a phallic symbol for her own use and that her attempts to control it have caused it to lose potency. [40] She can only restore the phallus. and thereby recover her poetic voice by returning to the Petrarchan convention of weeping, one that she had first practiced diligently, then hoped to abandon. But this temporary concession does not signal a metapoetic defeat. On the contrary, in her fourteenth sonnet Labe manipulates this topos to constitute a female poetic self.

The addressee of sonnet 14 is clearly the absent beloved, not the lute. But as the text unfolds, the desire to commemorate the beloved in verse becomes increasingly subordinated to the subject's absorption with her instrument and her own performance. For this reason first-person pronouns come to dominate the text to the extent that the second person is completely absent from the two tercets:

While my eyes can still shed tears

To regret past happiness with you;

And while my voice can resist

Sobbing and sighing, and still be heard a little;

While my hand can still strain the strings

Of the gentle lute, to sing your charms;

While my mind remains content

To embrace nothing but you,

I do not yet wish to die.

But when I will feel my eyes dry up,

My voice broken, and my hand powerless,

And my spirit in this mortal abode

No longer able to show a lover's signs;

Then I pray death to darken my brightest day. [41]

Deborah Baker points out that in this sonnet the speaker's recourse to the topos of weeping does not initiate the kind of fragmentation of the poetic subject found in allusions to tears by Petrarch and Sceve. Rather than focusing on the lute as an instrument of complaint, the poet here "registers its function as a celebration of the beloved." [42] Achieving and retaining the ability to perform, to "show a lover's signs" (even if they must be tears), enables the constitution and survival of a poetic self. In Labe's poetic world conventional weeping is not necessarily an end in itself (as so much Neopetrarchan poetry makes it), but simply the means by which an absent beloved can be "comprehended," "contained," "embraced," or "enclosed" (comprendre, line 8) by the act of poetic creation.

Although we have no lute-poem from Labe's Lyonnais contemporary, Pernette Du Guillet, she does take up the instrument once, in the passage in her second elegy (Rymes, 1545) where the subject, casting herself as Diana and her poet-companion as Actaeon, fantasizes about luring him to a fountain, then using a lute to challenge his right to dominate her by his gaze. The myth of Diana and Actaeon was often represented in the art of this period. A particularly elegant and well-known example is Jean Mignon's etching, La Metamorphose d'Acteon (after Luca Penni, 1545-1550), which portrays the dramatic moment in which the goddess flings water on the unfortunate hunter and transforms him into a stag (fig. 4). The simple notion of a courtly encounter between a female lutenist and a male hunter also appears in contemporaneous book illustration. One of the woodcuts included in the second edition of Eustorg de Beaulieu's Divers rapportz depicts a lady seated under a tree, playing the lute, while a gentleman-hunter stands be fore her with his falcon and dogs (fig. 5). [43] Numerous visual depictions of courtly life from this period also juxtapose music-making with the theme of the woman bathing, as in the tapestry, "Le Bain" (from the series on La Vie Seigneuriale), in which one of the lady's attendants plays a lute (fig. 6).

Du Guillet's innovation was to combine these visual traditions through her assimilation of the courtly female lutenist with the bathing Diana. The lute does not figure among the traditional accoutrements of the goddess of chastity and the hunt. But Du Guillet portrays Diana as a female Orpheus, replacing the goddess's bow and arrows with a lute, thereby inverting the gendered roles that customarily give a voice to the man and silence the woman in Neopetrarchan poetry. Unlike the original myth, in which Actaeon -- entirely by chance -- comes upon the goddess bathing in her grove, the subject here deliberately stages a performance intended to provoke her companion's reaction:

But I would like then, at the same time,

Having well tuned my little lute,

Having felt it, and tested its sound,

To sing a song on it,

To see what gesture he would make. [44]

Should her song incite him to try to touch her, she vows to fling the fountain's waters into his face, as Diana did to Actaeon.

But unlike Diana, this subject does not want to punish her spectator by transforming him into a stag. Rather she seeks to master him by her poetic gaze:

Not to have him killed,

And eaten by his dogs, as a Stag [cerf];

But that he might feel himself my Serf. [45]

Without the presence of the watching nymphs or requisite courtly attendants (conspicuously absent in Du Guillet's rendering), this Diana need not carry the tale through to its bloody conclusion. She envisions herself a powerful goddess, symbolically -- rather than literally -- inflicting the dismemberment and implied castration that were Actaeon's fate. [46] Her hand, as Robert Cottrell aptly puts it, "does more than scoop up water. It also holds a pen" -- or, more precisely, a lute: "signifier of song, voice, presence, of textual performance, of phallic exuberance and of power" (109).

Another female poet merits attention here, for nowhere is the lute more daringly eroticized as a symbol of the male body and then usurped by a female subject to denote her own poetic power than in an unpublished riddle poem dated to the 1570s and attributed either to Madeleine de l'Aubespine or to Heliette de Vivonne (the former the more likely). [47] This text is in effect a blason of the neck of the lute, in which the instrument is fragmented and fetishized -- subjected to the kinds of rhetorical manipulations that poets visited on the female body in other blasons. But in this case the "body" is male.

Key to the riddle is the verb manier, often used in reference to lute-playing in Renaissance texts without any particular implications beyond the common denotations: to use, to handle, to manipulate or wield. However, this sonnet conjures up the older, less innocuous senses of tater (to test, to feel) and palper (to palpate) as well as the fifteenth-century figurative meaning of mener a son gre (to lead at will, to take one's satisfaction). Here the male body becomes the female subject's instrument or plaything, a maneuver facilitated by the lute's masculine gendering. Throughout the text the subject refers to the instrument without naming it. Lacking an antecedent, the third-person pronouns can all be read either as "it" or "he," so that it becomes impossible to distinguish the lute from the man, the phallic symbol from the phallus itself:


For the sweetest enjoyment I could choose,

Often, after dinner, fearing that it/he misses me,

I take the neck in hand, touching and working it/him,

So that it/he will be in a state to give me pleasure.

I throw myself on my bed, without letting go of it/him,

Clasping it/him in my arms, I lean it/him upon my breast,

And, moving forcefully, all joyfully with ease,

Among a thousand sweetnesses, accomplish my desire.

If it happens, unhappily, that it/he slackens

I straighten it/him with my hand, and I contrive

To enjoy the pleasure of such sweet handling.

Thus my beloved, as long as the string draws it/him,

Contents and pleases me. Then from me, gently,

I withdraw it/him at last, slack but unappeased.

On a lute. [48]

The poem seeks to trap the listener into assuming that the answer to the enigme is a male lover (or more precisely, a part of him), although the answer provided at the end, so as to remove all doubt, is much more innocent. Or is it? The fact that this lady reclines on her bed, playing for herself, rather than for a male audience in the semi-public space of her salon, makes of lute-playing an intimate, potentially sexual activity, rather than a social practice.

The eroticism implied by female lute-playing in more public settings was generated and controlled by the male gaze. Here the practice of lute playing becomes a private pleasure, and not an innocent one.

In a sense this text confirms all of the worst fears that Renaissance culture seems to have espoused with regard to wanton female lutenists. But it also subverts these notions by simultaneously assuming and making light of them. If we read the sonnet as a female subject's response to the wistful question that Tyard's male subject posed to his lute ("does there remain in her bosom any sighing memory of me?"), the answer is both yes and no. Yes, she re-members him; but in the person of her lute.

In their attention to the corporeal dimension of music-making -- to what it feels like to play or watch someone play the lute -- these poems provide information about sixteenth-century French musical culture that cannot be gleaned from treatises or scores. They attest to gendered thinking or conventions in instrumental practice in courtly circles in this period, corroborating and augmenting evidence offered by the visual arts. To a greater extent than painters and engravers, poets could invest the lute with human qualities, explicitly conflating it with bodies and body parts, using anatomical vocabulary and ambiguous pronouns. It was the intimate relationship between poetry- and music-making that enabled poets to cast the lute as either a self or an other, gendered either as female or male, depending on the exigencies of the particular amatory scenario they wished to perform.

(*.) This article is a revision of a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America held in Vancouver in April 1997. I am grateful to Jeanice Brooks, Robert Cottrell, Colin Eisler, and Claire Fontijn for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.

(1.) Poems that describe or invoke a lute became popular with English poets too, especially toward the end of the century; see Hollander, 128-33.

(2.) Ibid., 129.

(3.) The first printed books of music for the lute appeared in Venice in 1507. The first French publication came from the press of Pierre Atraingnant in Paris in 1529, about the time of the arrival of the Mantuan virtuoso lutenist Alberto da Ripa at the court of Francois I.

(4.) In this period, singing to the accompaniment of the lute combined the best of two musical worlds: the clear text declamation afforded by accompanied monody, with the expressive qualities of vocal polyphony. During the second half of the fifteenth century it became more common to play with the fingertips than with a plectrum, although the two techniques coexisted for a time. This allowed soloists to realize polyphonic vocal compositions by singing one part and playing the others on the lute. Further, at about the turn of the century the lute's range was expanded (and therefore its expressive capabilities) when a sixth course of strings was added. For his ideal courtier, Castiglione favors solo singing to the accompaniment of a string instrument over participation in vocal polyphony (Haar, 174). In Tyard's Solitaire second the Solitary also endorses solo singing over polyphony, although without entirely condemning the latter (1980, 312-15). The Solitary's rejection of polyphony is partly based on his cont ention that musicians lack a knowledge of letters and poets a knowledge of music - a common humanistic complaint. On the status of the lute in French musical culture from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century see Vaccaro, chapter 1.

(5.) On musical activity in sixteenth-century Lyons, see Dobbins.

(6.) Poets closely associated with music include Saint-Gelais, who led an exemplary career as a poet-musician; Labe, whose skill as a lutenist was frequently praised by her contemporaries; and Tyard, whose Solitaire second of 1555 was one of the earliest and most comprehensive general treatises on music to appear in the vernacular in France. Others such as Sceve, Du Bellay and Ronsard favot images of music in their works, but there is no evidence to suggest that they possessed any remarkable musical talent themselves. In fact Du Belay and Ronsard both suffered from partial deafness, Ronsard beginning in his youth and Du Bellay later in life.

(7.) Allem, 2:203, 1-5: "Quand je la vois si gentille et si belle / Si doucement les langues manier / Du luth aimable, et sa voix mariner / Au son mignard que dit la chanterelle: // D'aise ravi tout le cteur me sautelle." I have adopted the following citation style for all quotations of poetry: (volume [if applicable]: page number of cited edition, line numbers). If the entire poem is quoted, or mentioned in passing, line numbers are omitted.

(8.) The texts by Saint-Gelais, Sceve Tyard, Labe and Aubespine considered here are all love poems. Du Bellay's sonnet A son luth (2:261) alludes to an illness he suffered during the course of a journey from France to Italy. Ronsard's odes to the lute, lyre and guitar -- longer texts which incorporate aspects of the genre -- treat largely of his aims for a new French poetry and his aspirations for a career at court (2:155, 1:162, and 1:229). Additionally, there are sixteenth-century poems that praise the lute or treat the subject of lute-playing without addressing the instrument directly, such as the ode that Jacques Grevin dedicated to Guillaume Morlayc (Morlayc, xix-xx).

(9.) The lute more than complemented the human form, it replicated it, for the instrument's overall construction articulated Pythagorean geometrical principles in microcosm (see Wells, chapter 5).

(10.) Vaccaro points out that lute-playing in this period was all about gesture, in terms of repertoire and notation as well as visual performance. The written repertoire consisted almost exclusively of transcriptions of vocal polyphony, so that the lutenist's work primarily involved the adaptation and transformation of musical compositions, rather than creation. Moreover, lute tablature differs substantially from musical notation in which notes are placed on a staff, for it is the very precise and efficacious notation of instrumental gesture. Tablature indicates where, when, and how to place the fingers on the instrument; it gives no indication of musical syntax (18).

(11.) Dart 23 and 48. This tutor is believed to have been copied by Miss Mary Burwell in about 1670, presumably from a manuscript lent her by her lute-master. Dart presents an abridged version; the entire text can be consulted in the facsimile edition published in Leeds.

(12.) Claude Du Verdier praises the lute's "honnete volupte" in his encyclopedic poem, Le Luth, which his father Antoine Du Verdier printed in his Bibliotheque (Du Verdier, 3:380-88).

(13.) 0n these paintings and particularly the French lute tablature depicted in them, see Heartz. Another anonymous Flemish representation of Mary Magdalen from the same period depicts her reading a prayer book. Also included in the scene ate an ointment vessel, an intabulation of a Flemish song, and a lute case. For a gloss on Heartz's study and a discussion of the latter painting see Slim, 1980, 465.

(14.) In this period the shape of the Italian lira da braccio also had symbolic connections with the human form, for a unique feature of the lira (as compared with the fiddle) was the indentation at the lower end of the body where the tail piece was attached (Jones, 2). The front of the famous lira by Giovanni d'Andrea from 1511 is carved to replicate a male torso, with a grotesque male face on the front of the pegbox. The back is carved to replicate a female torso, with a female face showing on the back of the pegbox. The female torso is overlapped by a moustachioed male face (for reproductions of this instrument see Jones, 55-56 or Winrernitz, 63).

(15.) Carpenter, 7-8: "gros cappitaines en plein camp de bataille ... se dodeliner, jouer du luc, sonner du cul."

(16.) Vaccaro, 460: "Nos peres nous ont aprins a dire Luc non Lut, tesmoin le petit mot de gueule des bons compagnons, qui disent que madamoiselle scait fort bien iouer du [ Upside down LUC] renverse." Here "renverse" can be read either as "inverted" (referring to the anagram) or "upended" (referring to the lady's posterior). This anonymous treatise concludes a collection of twenty-one essays titled Discours non plus melancoliques que divers ..., published in Poitiers in 1556. On the ascription to Peletier see Dobbins, 59. The full text of the treatise is reprinted in Vaccaro, appendix 3.

(17) Mirimonde, 7. One solution to this problem was to put the lute in the hands of a companion, for by the fifteenth century there was already a well-established convention of including the lute in representations of angel concerts. Thus, Riccardo Quartararo's Cecilia (Palermo Cathedral, c. 1490) emerges from her house holding a palm and a copy of the Gospels, in the company of a lute-playing angel (see Mirimonde, plate 3). In a sixteenth-century Italian painting attributed to Pellegrino Tibaldi (although this may be erroneous), Cecilia sings, holding a part book, and is accompanied by two angels, one with a harp and the other a lute (see Mirimonde, plates 98 and 99).

(18.) See Craig-McFeely's forthcoming article.

(19.) Du Bellay, 5:168, 345-52: "J'avois au lict cent mille gaillardises, / Mille bons mots & mile mignardises: / De bien baler on me donnoit le pris, / J'avoy du luth moyenement appris, / Et quelque peu entendoy la musique: / Quant la voix, je l'avois angelique, / Et ne se fust nul autre peu vanter / De scavoir mieux le Petrarque chanter" (I had in bed a hundred thousand ruses, / A thousand little words and a thousand caresses; / They praised me for my repartee; / I had learned to play the lute well, / And knew something of music; / As for my voice, it was angelic, / And there was no-one who could claim / To sing Petrarch better than I).

(20.) Ronsard, 1:5-6, 31-35: "L'esprit naif, naive la grace: / La main lascive, ou qu'elle embrasse / L'amy en son giron couche, / Ou que son Luc en soit touche, / Et une voix qui mesme son Luc passe."

(21.) On music as a remedy for lovesickness see Austern. She suggests that in early modern Europe the makers of musical instruments and producers of music-books may have deliberately created products to help heal erotic desire.

(22.) Saint-Gelais, 1:99-100: "O luth, plus estime present / Que chose que j'aye present, / Luth, del'honneste lieu venu / Ou mon coeur est pris et tenu, / Luth, qui responds mes pensees / Si tost quelles sont commencees, / Luth, que j'ay faict assez de nuictz / Juge et tesmoin de mes ennuys, / Ne pouvant voir aupres de moy / Celle quit' eust aupres de soy, / Je te supply, fay-moy entendre / Comme, touchant a la main tendre, / Ton bois s'est guarenty du feu / Qui si bien esprendre m'a sceu / Et s'il se pourroir bien esteindre / Par souvent chanter et me plaindre. / Que pleust Dieu, Luth, que ra voix / Peust aller ou du coeur je vois, / Tant que mon torment bien ouy / En peur rapporter un ouy. / Lors tu me ferois plus de grace / Qu'onc n'en feit Ia Harpe de Trace / Qui faisoit les montaignes suivre, / Car ru ferois un mort reviere.

(23.) Ronsard, in the last four lines of his ode to the lute (2:162, 125-28), also lauds the instrument's capacity to transform the singer's mood: "Je te salue, o luc armonieus / Radant de moi tout le soin enuieus / Et de mes amours trenchantes / Les peines, lors que tu chantes" (I salute you, oh harmonious lute,/ Driving from me all troublesome care/And the pains of my stinging / Love, when you sing).

(24.) Sceve, dizain 344: "Leuth resonnant, & le doulx son des cordes, / Et le concent de mon affection, / Comment ensemble vnyment tu accordes / Ton harmonie auec ma passion! // Lors que ie suis sans occupation / Si viuement l'esprit tu m'exercites, / Qu'ores a ioye, ore a dueil tu m'incites / Par tes accordz, non aux miens ressemblantz. // Car plus, que moy, mes maulx tu luy recites, / Correspondant a mes souspirs tremblantz."

(25.) Sceve, dizain 345: "Entre ses bras, o heureux, pres du coeur / Elle te serre en grand' delicatesse: / Et me repoulse auec route rigueur / Tirant de toy sa ioye, & sa liesse. / De moy plainctz pleurs, & morrelle trisresse / Loing du plaisir, qu'en toy elle comprent. // Mais en sesbras, alors qu'elle te prent, / Tu ne sens point sa flamme dommageable, / Qui iour, & nuict, sans la toucher, me rend / Heureusement pour elle miserable."

(26.) Tyard, 1967, 227: "Luth, seur tesmoing et fidele confort / De mes souspirs et travaux languissans, / De qui souvent les acords ravissans / M'ont fait souffrir en mourant double mart, // Tu as longtemps avec may plaint le tort / Des deux doux yeux, soleils esblouissans, / Qui d'esclairer mes tenebres puissans / Me refusoient le fruit de leur effort. // Va, bienheureux: et si ces blanches mains / Et si ces bras celestement humains / Te daignent tant honorer de te prendre, // Soient en tes sons si doucement deduiz / Les coustumiers acords de mes ennuiz / Que mon amour elle puisse comprendre."

(27.) Ibid., 228: "Luth, qui un tems pour desaigrir ma peine / M'acompaignois en ce lieu solitaire: / Luth, doux soulas, fidele secretaire / De la doulcur dont mon ame estoit pleine: // Combien de fois ay-je ouy Philomene / Pour escouter tes sons mourant se taire? / Puis tout soudain res regretz contrefaire / Aux doux accents du grief deuil qu'elle meine? // Tu fuz l'organe a mes plaints douloureux: / Et maintenant que tu sers bienheureux / D'honneste esbata ces deux mains d'yvoire, // Sers-moy d'espie: au moms sache s'il reste / Dens l'estomac (ton riche apuy) celeste / Quelque de moy souspirante memoire."

(28.) In a longer poem titled Chant a son Luth, Tyard's subject asks his lute to help him do poetic justice to the physical attributes of his beloved -- or, if it cannot adequately accomplish that task, at least to sing so mournfully that she will take pity on him (ibid., 246). Similarly, in a sonnet by Claude de Pontoux, the subject expresses the wish that his lyre might win him a kiss (Allem, 2:114, 1-2 and 13-14): "Lyre, rant que mes doigts auront leurs mouvements, / Gaillards, saints et dispos je sonnerai ta corde / ... / O que je t'aimerais s'elle prenait envie /De me venir baiser en oyant ta chanson!" (Lyre, while my fingers still have their movements, / Vigorous, strong, and adept; I will sound your string; /... / Oh how I would thank you if she should feel a desire / To come kiss me, upon hearing your song).

(29.) La Tayssoniere, 3, 11-12: "Je vous suplye ouir l'amoureus son / Sortant du creus de mon ame offencee."

(30.) Pouchard also cites Caravaggio's and Honthorst's A Supper (717 and 721, n. 13).

(31.) On this tradition see Slim, 1976.

(32.) This etching is reproduced in Zerner, 33:382. For a thorough study of the series see Wilson-Chevalier.

(33.) Pouchard, 717.

(34.) Labe, 122, 11 (all citations from Labe's works here refer to Rigolot's edition): "Tant de flambeaus pour ardre une femmelle!"

(35.) Pouchard, 717. In one of the Anacreontic lyrics (which were made available to French poets of Labe's generation in Henri Estienne's edition of 1554) we find allusions to a disobedient lyre that plays only of love, although the speaker would like to produce epic verse (Elegy and Iambus with the Anacreontea, 2:51). Ronsard also reworks this theme in the opening lines of his Priere a la fortune of 1555, where the subject observes that if he doesn't use his lyre to sing the renown of the Cardinal de Chastillon, the instrument will not cooperate, while if he does, the lyre plays as if of itself (8:103, 1-15).

(36.) Labe 127-28: "Lut, compagnon de ma calamite, / De mes soupirs temoin irreprochable, / De mes ennuis controlleur veritable, / Tu as souvent avec moy lamente: // Et tant le pleur piteus t'a moleste, / Que commencant quelque son delectable, / Tu le rendois tout soudein lamentable, / Feignant le ton que plein avoit chante. // Er si te veus efforcer au contraire, / Tu te destens et si me contreins taire: / Mais me voyant tendrement soupirer, // Donnant faveur a ma rant triste pleinte: / En mes ennuis me plaire suis contreinre, / Er d'un dous mal douce fin esperer."

(37.) See the editions of Labe by Giudici (181, n. 80) and Rigolot (127, n. 1).

(38.) In this period "transposition" indicated the movement of a whole tonal system up a fourth, through the introduction of a flat (e.g., moving the first mode from its natural position on D up to G with a flat signature -- a shift that does not alter the disposition of the mode).

(39.) Arcadelt, 2:238, measure 6. Jeanice Brooks brought this example to my attention. She points out that the harmony that results from this flatted pitch is still not minor.

(40.) For a detailed account of this aspect of the sonnet's imagery, see Pouchard. In Craig-McFeely's reading, the sonnet speaks of the conflict between the inner person and the public image: "between expression of the private and internal (the lute) and the public externalised convention verbally or vocally expressed (singing)." The lute betrays "feelings that the player would rather remain hidden" and even refuses to play when the singer asks it to express false emotions. The implication is that words alone cannot be trusted, while the lute is "unable to take part in any artificiality" (Craig-McFeely, forthcoming).

(41.) Labe, 128-29: "Tant que mes yeux pourront larmes espandre, / A l'heur passe avec toy regretter: / Et qu'aus sanglots et soupirs resister / Pourra ma voix, et un peu faire entendre: // Tant que ma main pourra les cordes tendre / Du mignart Lut, pour tes graces chanter: / Tant que l'esprit se voudra contenter / De ne vouloir rien fors que toy comprendre: // Je ne souhaitte encore point mourir. / Mais quand mes yeux je sentiray tarir, / Ma voix cassee, et ma main impuissante, // Et mon esprit en ce mortel sejour / Ne pouvant plus montrer signe d'amante: / Prirey la Mort noircir mon plus cler jour."

(42.) Baker, 148.

(43.) The first edition was printed in Lyons by Pierre de Sainte Lucie, in 1537. The second edition, printed by Alain Lotrian in Paris (in 1540 and again in 1544), is less complete and full of errors and misprints, but is ornamented with a series of rough woodcuts. For the image with the lady and the hunter, see the second edition, fol. H2v.

(44.) Du Guillet, 58-59, 17-21: "Mais je vouldrais lors quant, et quant avoir / Mon petit Luth accorde au debvoir, / Duquel ayant congneu, et pris le son, / J'entonnerois sur luy une chanson / Pour un peu veoir quelz gestes il tiendroit."

(45.) Ibid., 59, 30-32: "Non toutefois pour le faire tuer, / Et devorer a ses chiens, comme Cerf: / Mais que de moy se sentist estre serf."

(46.) DellaNeva, 50.

(47.) This poem appears in BN ms. fr. 1718, fol. 57r, with the signature VV. On the attribution to either Madeleine de l'Aubespine (Mme de Villeroy) or Heliette de Vivonne see Lavaud, appendix 1.

(48.) Aubespine, 70 (see also Vivonne 42-43): "Pour le plus doulx esbat que je puisse choisir, / Souvent, apres disner, craignant qu'il ne m'ennuye, / Je prens le manche en main, je le touche et manye, / Tant qu'il soit en estat de me donner plaisir. // Sur mon lict je me jecte, et, sans m'en dessaisir, / Je l'estreins de mes bras, sur mon sein je l'appuye, / Et remuant bien fort, d'aise toute ravie, / Entre mile douceurs j'accompliz mon desir. // S'il advient par ma1heur quelquefois qu'il se lasche, / De la main je le dresse, et derechef je tasche / A joyr du plaisir d'un si doux maniment. // Ainsi mon bien ayme, tant que le nerfluy tire, / Me contente et me plaist. Puis de moy, doucement, / Lasse et non assouvye, enfin je le retire. // D'un Luc."


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Date:Sep 22, 2000
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