Music in Antiquity on Display in Madrid

Music in Antiquity on Display in Madrid


Attic red figure cup of a female musician playing at an altar, c. 480 BC.

It’s the summer art season here in Madrid, and tourists, locals, and immigrants like me are fleeing to the air conditioned sanctuaries of major exhibitions to avoid heat stroke and see some culture.

One of the more interesting exhibitions is at the Caixa Forum, an exhibition space run by one of Spain’s major banks. Music in Antiquity traces the development of various musical instruments in Europe and the Middle East, and looks at how music was used in various ancient cultures.

About 400 artifacts from the Louvre, the National Museum in Athens, Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions trace some 3,000 years of history.


A collection of Egyptian artifacts, including the sistrum of Henuttawy,
singer of Isis and Amun-Ra, from Karnak in the Third Intermediate Period
(1080-800 BC). Also an oboe and carrying case belonging to a female
musician of Mut, from the Ramessid Period of the New Kingdom (1295-1069 BC).

One of the high points of this exhibition, besides the interesting artifacts, are headphones playing music from reproduced ancient musical instruments. The kids section also has a computer program where you can link together instruments to create a Greek funeral or a Roman party. My son liked this one.

I do have to say that we found the exhibition a bit unfocused. The theme was too broad to properly cover in anything less than an entire museum, so it ended up being a collection of nice artifacts. Still, it’s worth a look, especially on a day like today, where it’s getting up to 41 degree Celsius.

Music in Antiquity runs until September 16.


Roman mosaic of a harpist


Copper alloy figurines of Dionysus and his retinue, c. 125-50 BC. Found in Lower Egypt.


Roman fresco of street musicians, 1rst Century AD, from Stabiae, Italy


Attic black figure olpe showing a satyr playing the aulos,
c. 560-540 BC. Found in Vulci (Etruria, Italy).

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan.

Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page. His latest book, The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, is a neo-pulp detective novel set in Cairo in 1919.

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