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Print version ISSN 0101-3262On-line version ISSN 1678-7110


REILY, Lucia. Musicians that are blind or blind musicians: representations of sensory compensation in art history. Cad. CEDES [online]. 2008, vol.28, n.75, pp.245-266. ISSN 0101-3262.

Representations of blind musicians have been a recurring theme among artists since Antiquity. A survey of artworks uncovered nearly 160 portrayals of visual impairment, of which 25 represented blind musicians. This paper presents a historical description of conceptions of blind musicians based on these depictions covering several centuries. The analysis of the concentration of harpists in Antiquity, hurdy-gurdy players from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, violinists and guitar players from the 17th to the 19th century and the emergence of the accordion by the mid 19th century enables us to reflect on the fluctuating role of blind musicians in society, depending on prevailing stereotypes. Analyzing visual cues in artwork shows how musicians that are blind often play the role of blind musicians, working in poverty, on the fringe of society where their musical performance makes begging a legitimate business. The conceit of sensory compensation for loss of sight through heightened hearing is also explored.

Keywords : Music; Blindness; Work; Art history.

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