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Sing aloud harmonious spheres: Music, Philosophy and the Order of the Universe in the Renaissance

International Conference, 12-15 May 2011, Palazzo Papafava, Venice

organised by Jacomien Prins (Oxford) and Maude Vanhaelen (Warwick)


Paolo Veronese, Villa Barbaro, Bacchus, Vertumnus and Saturn (detail)

Conference Theme

The conference “Sing aloud harmonious spheres” brings together scholars and musici working on different aspects related to the reception of the concept of the harmony of the spheres in the Renaissance. Within this tradition, which took as a point of departure the Pythagorean belief that numbers and harmonic proportions are the basic principles of the cosmos, it was current practice to consider the the cosmos as a harmonic creation and music as an art that could represent and reflect this cosmic harmony. During the Renaissance nearly all classical and medieval authorities became available in print. As a result, theories of cosmic harmony, which had already been highly sophisticated in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, became increasingly more complex.

These theories have become the subject of intense scholarly interest in recent years. This is clear, for example, from the many studies dedicated to Renaissance commentaries on Plato’s Timaeus, a dialogue which itself seeks to integrate philosophy, religion, and ideas about harmony. Research into the re-conceptualisation of the world from the sixteenth century onwards has so far focused on the question whether, and to what extent, Renaissance ideas on cosmic harmony and music theory prefigure the so-called Copernican revolution or are merely a continuation of traditional modes of thought. The purpose of the conference is to break down the barriers of this historiographical narrative, and to focus on the various ways in which Renaissance scholars themselves reconsidered the relationship between cosmos, man and music.

The conference will thus address methodological issues by bringing together scholars from various disciplines and theoretical backgrounds. More specifically, it will be debating the question whether traditional philological and hermeneutical approaches still constitute the most successful paths to explore the theme of musical harmony as a whole. It will also seek to expand the spatial boundaries of the theme by exploring contexts beyond Renaissance Italy. The conference will be explore two closely related themes: the first will concentrate on the way in which Renaissance thinkers anchored their basic beliefs in music theory, and the second will focus on the way in which musicians, composers and theoreticians used concepts from cosmology and philosophy of nature to confer meaning to music.

Programme click here

Abstracts click here

Practical information

Conference site: Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, Venice

The Palazzo Pesaro Papafava of Warwick University is a Venetian Renaissance palace overlooking the Canale della Misericordia with a land entrance from the Calle de la Rachetta in Cannaregio. As Warwick research centre it offers beautiful settings for academic conferences. You will find a map, showing the location of the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, together with the necessary practical information, on the History of Art website.

Conference fee for auditors

The conference fee for auditors (£60/€70) will cover registration and lunches. Students of Ca’Foscari and other universities, institutes or colleges in Venice will get a discount of 50% (£30/€35).

For further information: see the registration form here


A concert recital will take place on Friday 13 May: see programme here

Two excursions are included in the programme:

(1) on Saturday 14 May, a visit to the San Francesco della Vigna Church in Venezia (click here for more details)

(2) on Sunday 15 May, a visit to the Palazza Barbaro (click here for more details).


Jacomien Prins ( and Maude Vanhaelen (