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“In wood, stone and parchment. Musical instruments of wheel in the medieval Spain (XIIth - XVth century)”.
Edited for: The Institution Fernando " The Catholic ". Saragossa 2013. Spain



Iconography of the “organistrum” in the spanish medieval art. Its reconstruction

Presented by:

Antonio Poves Oliván
Graduated in Fine Arts


Directed by:

Dr. D. Juan Llaveria i Arasa
Director of CIAE. Centro de Investigación. Art & Enviromental Research Centre

June 2008


Index of the thesis (only available in Spanish)


General view of thesis

Thesis´ summarize:

It’s about a study of one of the string musical instruments sculptured in the church and cathedrals porticos in the Medieval Spain: the “organistrum”. This musical instrument incorporates a mechanism that differs from the rest of the string instruments: a wheel and auxiliar elements, an axle and its supports, as well as a case with keys.


The most important representation is sculpt in the Gloria’s Portico in Santiago de Compostela.


The “organistrum” was a musical instrument with strings, that was played by turning a wheel with a crank. By activating the crank, the wheel, impregnated  with resin powder, made the strings vibrated, these protected in cotton provide the sound of the instrument. Because of its size and complexity it was necessary the presence of two musicians to perform the melodies that in most part of the studied iconography, are figures which are seated with the instrument leant on their legs. One of the musicians had as a mission to turn the crank to activate the wood wheel and like that the sound and the rhythm were produced, meanwhile the other musician activated the keyboard with both hands.


This work includes two fundamental parts: one historical-artistic and the other scientific. It’s classified into three groups to make its reading or consult easier. The volume I contain the theoretical part (definition, sources, description of the instrument and the porticos, conclusion and bibliography); the volume II presents the field work and the photographic archive; and in the volume III it is developed the reconstruction of the instruments, directed to the scientific demonstration of the “organistra” iconographic analysis. In a separated folder there is the APPENDIX with the general plans of the set up of the seven “organistra” rebuilt, to a bigger legibility of the contents. Together with this information it´s included a photograph (in A4 format) in colour of each of one of the presented instruments, a CD with the archives in PDF required by the U.P.V. and another CD with different sounds of the “organistra”. The four volumes go with a wooden case for the protection and cohesion of the collection.


The historical-artistic section of volume I covers in first place a description of the 26 representations of “organistra” founded in Spain between the XII and the XV centuries. After it presents a comparative study with other “organistra”, an analytic result and a state of the question, with the most important bibliographic sources. Finally, it is described the biblical facts sculpt in stone in the porticos, their sculptural aspects and their ways of representing technically what thinkers, knowledgeable and masters left captured in all the medieval iconographic programmes.


In the volume II there are the detailed files of the “organistra” of the porticos and paintings where the representations are founded, together with the instruments that carry or play the elderly apocalyptic, kings or musician angels.  The criteria followed to the development of the files about the “organistrum” are based in the model proposed by Howrad M. Brown y Joan Lascelle in Musical Iconography: “A Manual for cataloguing musical subjects in western art before 1800”.


The technical section of the volume III reproduces the individual plans of each of the pieces that compose the reproduction of an “organistrum” representative of a group that share the same technical characteristics. All the “organistra” have in common the wheel, but the element that makes them have different properties is the case, where the keyboard is. This way in the representation of the “organistrum” there are four different possibilities in the musical performance:

1. - By pulling the keyboard towards outside.
2. - By pushing the keyboard towards the case’s interior with the hands on this.
3. - By pressing the keyboard towards the case’s interior, but from the opposite side of the previous, like the actual keyboards.
4. - By resting the hand directly on the strings, without case neither keyboard.

Besides the most famous representation of “organistrum”, which is the one from the Gloria’s Door of Santiago de Compostela, to do this research it was taken into consideration the stand out representations that are showed below:

1.- The San Miguel de Estella´s door, Navarra, (c. XII).
2.- The Santo Domingo de Soria´s door, (c. XII).
3.- The Ahedo de Butrón´s Church´s door, Burgos, (c. XII).
4.- The Gloria´s Portico, Santiago de Compostela, La Coruña, (c. XII).
5.- The miniature of the Cantigas de Alfonso X “El Sabio”, (c. XIII).
6.- The La Hiniesta Church´s door, Zamora, (c. XIII).
7.- The “Monasterio de Piedra´s Triptych”, (c. XIV) nowadays in the History Academy,   Madrid.


Award of the best thesis in the area of Fine Art of the Politecnic University of Valencia (Spain)

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