The Roots Of Multimedia – Middle Ages And The Renaissance

By | May 22, 2023

Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a variety of musicians and artists envisioned an art form that would combine color and sound. Rudolph of St. Trond, a theorist of the late eleventh century, claimed that the modes of plainsong could be identified with the ancient Greek modes and that both could be allied with particular colors. In his notational system, the Dorian mode was to be written in red, the Phrygian mode in green, the Lydian mode in yellow and the Mixolydian in purple. The Milanese theorist Franchino Gaffurio reintroduced this idea in the fifteenth century. Gaffurio further associated the colors and modes with the Greek humors.

Vincent of Beauvais, the medieval author of a work called Great Mirror, attempted to expound upon Aristotle’s original proportional color-music ratios. However, Beauvais believed that only seven colors could embody proportions that would appear pleasant to the eye. This resulted in a different color-chord consonance. Beauvais related pink to the musical fifth and light green to the musical fourth.

During the Renaissance, the Venetian theorist Gioseffo Zarlino claimed that modern musical counterpoint had added the major and minor thirds and the major sixth to the ancient fundamental ratios of the fourth, fifth and octave. Musical consonance was thus brought directly into a potential relationship with a scale of primary and secondary colours. Leonardo da Vinci, who insisted on rational and geometric arguments for the color-music connection, was sufficiently convinced of the consonances to draw diagrams of “colour organs”.

Arcimboldo, a Milanese painter of the sixteenth century, was one of the earliest artists in a long line of luminaries to endeavor to merge the arts of painting and music. Arcimboldo devised a method of color harmony upon a color scale similar to the musical scale. These early roots of multimedia led to ongoing attempts by artists and musicians to create the combinations of color and sound that we know today as multimedia art.