An ancient myth, new instruments

Escritorio de Oaxaca Pulse para ampliar Escritorio de Oaxaca. Sala 29, vitrina 29.6

Desk. Oaxaca, México

In Mexico under the viceroyship, many desks and folding screens were decorated with musical scenes. Ever since the Spanish arrived in New Spain, the Creole aristocracy attempted to reproduce the refined musical atmosphere that they had left behind in the mother country. The galleons filled their holds with books on music, vihuela strings and all sorts of instruments. The chroniclers did their part to document the Indians’ great skill at this art form. In a very short period of time, the natives were able to build organs, play sackbuts – wind instruments similar to the trombone – and they managed to become outstanding composers.

On the desktop cover, Orpheus presides the center of the scene, calming the animals and the plants around him by playing the viola da gamba. At the time, this instrument was about to go out of fashion, before being displaced by the much more powerful violoncello. In one of the right-hand corners Apollo was depicted playing a string instrument similar to the lute, surrounded by a small orchestra of muses playing lutes, hornpipes, a transverse flute or traverso and a viola da gamba.