“So, Glaucon,” I said, “isn’t this why the rearing in music is most sovereign? Because rhythm and harmony most of all insinuate themselves into the inmost part of the soul and most vigorously lay hold of it in bringing grace with them; and they make a man graceful if he is correctly reared, if not, the opposite.” – Plato, The Republic, Book III
I have recently resumed studying piano, which is perhaps why it seemed appropriate to put this bust of St Cecilia – the patron saint of music – in the midst of the linen and lace forming my next still life. Plato’s observations regarding musical education ring true to me – when I immerse myself in it, music brings meaning and order to my outlook on everything, not through language and explanation, but directly, by a sort of fusion with the senses.
St. Cecilia was a Roman martyr who suffered a failed attempt at suffocation in the steam bath at her home and three failed attempts at beheading, eventually dying some days later from loss of blood. Her body was discovered in 822, robed in silk and gold with cloths soaked in her blood at her feet. Her corpse was then transferred to Trastevere in Rome and a veil placed over her body by Pope Paschal I.
When the church was renovated some 800 years later, her coffin was opened and her body was found to be intact, as if she had only just died. Stefano Maderno, a sculptor who observed the exhumation, then made a beautiful sculpture from marble representing what he had seen. He engraved this testimony on the case: “Behold the most holy virgin Cecilia, whom I myself saw lying incorrupt in her tomb”.
While the connection of Cecilia with music is firmly based in legend, her connection with beauty seems firmly established in history, given her status as the first of the ‘incorruptibles’ and this undeniably beautiful rendition of her in death.
“…for what should be the end of music if not the love of beauty?” – Plato, The Republic, Book III