Henry Purcell and the construction of identity: iconography, heraldry and the Sonnata’s of III Parts (1683)

Duncan, Cheryll (2016) Henry Purcell and the construction of identity: iconography, heraldry and the Sonnata’s of III Parts (1683). Early Music, 44 (2). pp. 271-288. ISSN 0306-1078

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The frontispiece to Purcell’s Sonnata’s of III Parts is examined as a potential source of new information about the composer’s life and personality. A discussion of the rhetorical status of frontispieces and other preliminary matter in 17th-century print culture reveals that they played a significant role in shaping the reception of a text, predisposing readers to award it considerable status. The attribution of the unsigned portrait to Robert White, the most prestigious engraver of the day, plays into this desired reading. How one saw oneself and expected to be perceived in a community or hierarchy found expression in one’s choice of dress, and Purcell’s selection of apparel is analysed as an indicator of socio-economic status. His coat of arms beneath the portrait further substantiates the gentlemanly persona projected by the sartorial image. The publication’s dedication to the king, and the image of the composer as court musician and member of the cultivated élite, combine to validate for English audiences the novel foreign genre materialized in the Sonnata’s . One hitherto unnoticed feature of Purcell’s escutcheon settles a controversial issue concerning his position in the family succession; the five-pointed star is a cadency mark, showing conclusively that he was the third son. The armorial bearings of his wife Frances are identified as those of the Petres, an aristocratic Catholic family; the conjoining of those arms with his own on the Purcell memorial in Westminster Abbey suggests that the impalement was a further strategy to demonstrate his exalted social standing.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Henry Purcell, Frances Purcell, frontispiece, Robert White, identity, heraldry, iconography
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
Depositing User: Anna Wright
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2017 21:09
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2021 11:38
URI: http://repository.rncm.ac.uk/id/eprint/7

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