An inspiration from Renaissance approaches and modern art

Musical instruments have been depicted in Gothic stone carvings interrogating biblical themes

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIQUE MUWANGUZI | The imposing tall sculpture that stands in the lobby of the new Makerere University Main Library building immediately catches the eye. Standing over 25 feet tall, the colossal figurine depicts a young boy playing the flute with his eyes closed; a demonstration of musical concentration. the Flute Boy 2000 is a curved wood in metal protection. The figure’s wrapping in metal plates is a figurative allusion to the security and protection the young man enjoys in a new environment. As such, artist Francis Xavier Nnagenda created the figurine to show the public a prosperous and youthful nation full of optimism. The idea of ​​playing the flute is a representation of the happiness, the joy that accompanies such prosperity. Likewise, its size symbolizes the creative ingenuity of the artist in pursuit of unprecedented approaches to artistic production. Nnagenda’s name in the local art scene has been synonymous with producing large-scale artworks that have propelled it onto the global art scene.

Flute Boy is another demonstration of Nnagenda’s studio dexterity against the backdrop of inconsistency in technique, style and subject matter. In the work, the artist seems to borrow a great deal from Renaissance art, which recurrently depicted musical instruments in Gothic stone sculptures. 13and Sculptural works of the century had images of angels or laity playing stringed instruments, but later images of wind instruments like the flute emerged in artwork. The showcase of musical instruments in stone carvings, juxtaposed with the dominant interrogation and expression of biblical themes in the art of this period. The stone sculpture of King David and Queen Bathsheba, 1230-1240, depicting David playing the lyre, a northern European musical string instrument, in Bathsheba gives resonance to such an approach. The posture of the performer evokes an experienced instrumentalist who sings the serenade of the love of his life. Similar depictions of stone figurines playing musical instruments can be seen on church ceilings or facades, symbolizing the emerging appreciation of these instruments as a powerful form of imagery in art. This was likely motivated by their diversity of cultural background and meaning. Therefore, musical instruments of different types were depicted differently in sculptural works to stimulate particular feelings and interpretations for the audience.

The painting Boy Playing the Flute, 1635 by Judith Leyster is inspired by trends in Renaissance art. This is similar to religious paintings of the same period which sometimes depicted different types of musical instruments in their compositions. Although it does not interrogate a biblical theme, it depicts a young boy playing the flute with the violin and pipe hanging in the background. Such is the demonstration of the easy social background of the young man and his accomplished skills in the practice of a diversity of instruments. But the most interesting aspect of the painting is the youthfulness of the subject which quickly reminds us of the Nnagenda Flute Boy. A youthful identity in the context of painting is a symbol of vitality, ingenuity and promise. The Flute Boy standing in the library lobby is not just a representation of a newly born and thriving nation, but an allusion to the vitality and ingenuity that can be found in such a space. The library enables social cultural exchange and learning that contributes to the development of society in the new millennium.

Nnagenda’s experimental approach to this extraordinary work can be seen in working with Renaissance and modernist forms of artistic production which he integrated with his own indigenous artistic approach to wood curvature. He delved into the subject of innovation by working with metal plates as a gesture towards the subject of appropriation in contemporary art. This technique aims to provide an alternative and inexpensive material that can replace conventional supports. As an art scholar, her endeavors seem to be contextualized within particular topics of her academic interest. This journey offers him a wealth of knowledge that he is eager to share with the new generation of artists.


The sculpture was donated by the Rockefeller Foundation to the University Library

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