Women in Trombone History, 1500-1900

Updated on March 22, 2018
kimballtrombone profile image

I am a university music professor specializing in trombone. My interests include trombone history, iconography, and the alto trombone.

The idea that women did not become serious trombone players until the 20th century is a misconception. While many of the visual images shown below are symbolic (e.g., depictions of muses and angels), there is extensive evidence that women have been trombonists of the highest caliber since the 16th century. Some of the most compelling literal examples come from Italian convents (Ferrara, Venice, and Bologna), where nuns apparently learned to play trombone in order to supply lower voices in vocal performances. Later, beginning in the 19th century and extending well into the 20th century, all-women orchestras that included trombones achieved popularity. In the later years, parody also becomes common in visual depictions of women trombonists, although this can be seen as a trend present in trombone history in general.

For more historical context and full citation of sources, see the Trombone History Bibliography.

c. 1520—Rome, Italy: Polidoro da Caravaggio (the less-famous Caravaggio, sometimes known as Polidoro Caldara) paints Apollo with the Muses, a panel painting that includes a depiction of one of the muses playing trombone (see below detail; public domain) (Fürst Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna, Inv. GE207). The full image is reproduced in Paul Schubring, Cassoni (Leipzig, 1915, Pl. 847 and 846).

c. 1550—Netherlands: Artist Martin van Heemskerck includes a trombone-playing muse in his panel painting, Apollo and the Muses (see below detail; public domain; wikimedia commons) (New Orleans Museum of Art). This instrument appears to be relaitvely small and is perhaps an alto trombone. Colin Slim proposes the creation date of 1546 in his article, “On Parnassus with Maarten van Heemskerck,” part II (Musica Disciplina, 1997).

1559—Munich, Germany. A collection of works by composer Cipriano de Rore, illuminated by court painter Hans Mielich, includes 2 images of women trombonists (see below 2 images; public domain) (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Mus.ms. B).

c. 1562-68—Germany: An embroidered tablecloth depicts an aristocratic woman playing trombone. Other images on the tablecloth include Count Poppo of Henneberg and wife Sophie of Brunswick (see below detail; public domain) (Herbert, Trombone 79).

c. 1570—An engraving by Franz Ignaz Brun from the Nine Muses series features a woman angel-musician playing trombone (see below image; public domain) (British Museum).

1574—Dresden, Germany: A procession for the carnival season is held at the court of Elector August of Saxony. Three different music ensembles in the procession include trombone (Bowles, Musical Ensembles 73). Graphic representations of the event show the first and third groups in lavish robes and hats, the second (see image below) with rough leggings, no shirts, and leaves in their hair, representing “wild men and women” (Bowles, Musical Ensembles 77, 79, 80; public domain images).

1576—Bologna, Italy: Isabella Trombetta brings her trombone with her to the convent Santi Gervasio e Protasio (Monson, Disembodied 264).

1582—Dresden, Germany: In a procession celebrating the marriage of Christian I of Saxony, a symbolic entourage of Bacchus includes a quartet of apparently female players: two trombones, cornett, and tenor shawm (see below image; public domain) (Bowles 103-4).

1584—Bologna, Italy: Ascanio Trombetti, master wind player of San Petronio and the ensemble Concerto Palatino, also serves as maestro di cappella at the convent of San Lorenzo. About the nuns at San Lorenzo he says, “As a musician, I’ve often gone to teach the sisters the trombone and viola. More precisely, I’ve taught the trombone and viola to Sister Florentia, and to many others as well—Sister Semidea Poggi, Sister Angelica Fava, Sister Panina, and Sister Cecilia Ghisliera” (Monson, Nuns Behaving Badly 53).

1584—Dresden, Germany: A procession during wedding festivities for Balthasar Wurm and Anton von Sahlhausen at the court of Saxony includes eight musicians dressed as women, playing trombone, lute, cittern, treble viol, bass recorder, tenor viol, transverse flute, and clavichord; a graphic representation of the procession shows the trombone at the head of the group (see below image; public domain). Another ensemble in the procession consists of bass recorder, cornetts, bombard, and trombones (Bowles, Musical Ensembles 105, 107).

1591—Augsburg, Germany: A woodcut on the title page of Adam Gumpelzhaimer’s Neue Teutsche Geistliche Lieder (re-used for at least one subsequent work) includes a depiction of a female trombonist as part of an apparently all-woman ensemble (see below detail; public domain) (Naylor 221; Kinsky 85).

1594—Ferrara, Italy: According to Ercole Bottrigari, nuns at Santa Vito convent play “cornetts and trombones [cornetti & tromboni], which are the most difficult of musical instruments….with such grace, and with such a nice manner [con tanta gratia, & con si gentil maniera], and such sonorous and just intonation of the notes that even people who are esteemed most excellent in the profession confess that it is incredible to anyone who does not actually see and hear it. And their passagework is not of the kind that is chopped up, furious, and continuous, such that it spoils and distorts the principal air, which the skillful composer worked ingeniously to give to the cantilena; but at times and in certain places there are such light, vivacious embellishments that they enhance the music and give it the greatest spirit” (Bottrigari-MacClintock 59; Bottrigari 49). Musicologist Bruce Dickey also speculates that, because there were no male voices to sing lower parts, many convents featured excellent tenor and bass trombonists: “Despite the fact that church authorities continued to forbid the use of most musical instruments in the convents, many nuns were renowned for their ability not only on cornetts but also on tenor and bass trombones” (Dickey, Cornett and Sackbut 107).

1600—Venice and Ferrara, Italy: Giovanni Artusi praises musical performances of the nuns at Ferrara’s San Vito in his L’Artusi overo delle imperfettioni. Among the instruments the nuns perform on are numerous wind instruments, including cornetts and trombones (tromboni). Regarding their musical proficiency, Artusi offers high praise for the nuns, specifically mentioning “their grace, the beautiful manner of phrasing, of giving life to the passagework” (Boydell, Crumhorn 298).

Early 1600s—Rozmberk, Ceske Budcjovice district, Czech Republic: In Allegory of Music, an anonymous wall painting in the music alcove of the Knights’ Hall in the Lower Castle at Rozmberk, a female trombonist is depicted among several other female musicians (Volek pl. 107).

c. 1610—Mantua, Italy: Antonio Maria Viani’s Parnassus as Allegory of Mantuan Literary Glory, located in the Ducal Palace, features what appears to be a woman holding a trombone (see detail and full image below; public domain; special thanks to John Rojak).

1613—Bologna, Italy: Records from the convent Santa Margherita show that a woman named Suor (sister) Olimpia Ghisilieri and another nun both own trombones (Monson, Disembodied 47).

c. 1615—Italy: Sienese artist Francesco Rustici (sometimes known as “il Rustichino”) includes what is probably a trombone in his painting, Concerto. The trombonist, standing in the middle-rear, appears to be female (see detail and full image below; public domain) (Museo di Arti Figurative; Markova). For a fine art reproduction of the trombone player (labeled “trumpet” on the site), see here.

1616—Stuttgart, Germany: Festivities celebrating the baptism of Prince Friedrich von Württemberg feature trombone extensively. First, at the service itself, the “Assum Version” festival book records, “The charming piece by Gregor Aichinger, Laudate Dominum &c. for eight voices, with two cornetts, four trombones and two bassoons was executed by the most select vocalists, ending most appropriately.” Following the baptism, a Te Deum by Salomon is sung, utilizing three ensembles: “The first, with a positive organ, four fiddles, two lutes, a small pipe and large contrabass viols, besides four singers. The other, with regal, one cornett, two trombones, a bassoon and four vocal soloists. The third also with a regal, three trombones, a serpent, in addition to four musicians. Whenever the three ensembles played together [there was added] the great organ, a cornett and a contra bassoon [Pommerten Vagoten].” Later, trombone is again involved, this time during a banquet: “For this, the Kapellmeister of the prince directed a warm, intense chamber and banquet music for the assembled company with select members of the ensemble, in the Italian, English and French manner, with instruments [such as] portative organ, cornetts, trombones, bassoons, lutes, fiddles, viole bastarde, small pipes and live voices, the best soloists, [all] in various combinations.” Two days later there is a procession incorporating instrumentalists dressed as the Nine Muses that includes a trio of trombone and two cornetts (see below image; public domain) (Bowles 199-200, 207).

1617—Stuttgart, Germany: Esaias von Hulsen draws engravings for a "festival book," or official record of a festival, portraying the Stuttgart festivals surrounding the christening of Ulrich of Württemberg and the marriage of Ludwig Friedrich of Württemberg to Elisabeth Magdalena of Hesse-Darmstadt. The book, which is published in 1618, includes two different plates that feature four different trombonists taking part in a procession, all of the players apparently female (see below 4 images; public domain) (sources: Komma 128, Festkultur online).

1618—Bologna, Italy: Suor (sister) Angela Maria Rugieri brings a trombone and bass viol with her to the convent Santa Caterina (Monson, Disembodied 263).

c. 1625—Italy: A painting by Italian Pietro Paolini (or his school), entitled Gruppo di giovani suonatori con vaso di fiori, offers a clear representation of a female trombonist among a group of musicians (see below image; public domain) (Giusti 158).

1630—Venice, Italy: The Ospedale (or Hospital) di San Lazaro e dei Mendicanti, an orphanage and school, replaces an old trombone that has been in their possession, indicating the nuns there have probably played and taught the instrument for some time. Indeed, other sources indicate that trombone is one of the instruments taught at ospedali, and inventories from the Mendicanti from slightly later include multiple trombones (Baldauf-Berdes 130, 141, 171).

1632—Bologna, Italy: In the convent Santa Cristina, nuns accompany themselves, according to contemporary Mauro Ruggeri, “with various instruments, violins, trombones, harps, and such like” (Monson, Disembodied 52).

1646-47—Sassuolo, Italy: A ceiling painting by Angelo Michele Colonna (sometimes known as Michelangelo Colonna) in the Palazzo Ducale di Sassuolo depicts a female in the clouds holding a trombone (see facing-lower; public domain image) (Pirondini 251).

1697—Brno, Czech Republic: A 14-piece ensemble of all female performers at the Cistercian convent at the outskirts of Brno includes a female trombonist (Franziska Haldin), along with several trumpeters (Shifrin, Women's Orchestra). See also 1782, below.

1710—Verona, Italy: Felice Torelli, younger brother of composer Giuseppe Torelli, depicts a female angel playing trombone in Immacolata Concezione, painted for the church of Sant’Orsola dei Mendicati shortly after the proclamation of the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. The image is noteworthy because no other musical instruments are depicted with the trombone. The artist includes the usual flat stays found on trombones of the time, but the slide appears to be somewhat longer than usual and the player’s grip on the instrument’s back tubing somewhat unorthodox (see below image; public domain; Verona, Museo di Castelvecchio) (Chiodini; Oxford Art Online).

1782—Brno, Czech Republic: An instrumental ensemble of all female performers at the Cistercian convent at the outskirts of Brno includes a female trombonist (Ottilia Kreitmayerinn), along with three hornists (Shifrin, Women's Orchestra). See also 1697, above.

1853—Düsseldorf, Germany: A Düsseldorf magazine publishes an apparently satirical depiction of an all-woman orchestra, including a trombonist seated at the front of the ensemble. The picture is labeled, “Damen-Conzert a la Strauss” (see below image; public domain) (Düsseldorfer Monatshefte; Worbs 148).

1865—Paris, France: A satirical graphic titled Domestic joys of parents whose daughters take part in women’s orchestras, published in Le monde illustré, includes a woman playing a rear-facing trombone (see below image; public domain) (Le monde illustré, 9, no. 442; Sept 30 1865).

1871—Paris, France: A lithograph titled A propos de la crise monétaire (“About the currency crisis”) from a series of prints by French caricaturist B. Moloch (B. Colomb) called Les Silhouettes de 1871 depicts a woman playing a rear-facing trombone, along with a well-dressed man wearing a sign asking for pity and donations (see below image; public domain).

1873—Leipzig, Germany: The Women’s Orchestra of Frau Amann-Weinlich, A woodcut after a drawing by Vincent Katzler, includes a female trombonist as part of a depiction of an all-woman orchestra. The trombonist is situated in the upper-left (see below image; public domain) (Musikgeschichte in Bildern: Konzert 159)

1888—A series of cigarette cards advertising W. Duke Sons & Co. cigarettes depicts women playing various musical instruments, one of the cards depicting a woman holding what appears to be a valve trombone (see below detail; public domain).

1899—France: Louis Anquetin, a respected anti-Impressionist artist, publishes a lithograph of trombonist Marguerite Dufay. Part of the “Les Maitre de L’Affiches” series, it portrays a woman categorized among comique excentrique entertainers of the popular Parisian music cafes. Marguerite Dufay is said to have performed throughout Paris at its many music halls (see below image; public domain) (sources: Charles Hiatt, Picture Posters: A Short History, p. 113; Ervine Metzl, The Poster: Its History and Its Art, p. 50).


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    • kimballtrombone profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago


      That is ok with me, as long as you give me credit and provide a link to this article. I'm glad you liked it!

    • kimballtrombone profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks, Love and Peace, for dropping by. I'm glad you found something worthwhile!

    • Love and Peace profile image

      Love and Peace 

      9 years ago from Kenctucky

      Yay! I loved this article! :)

      I'm a female trombone player and this makes me smile, because even still when people see a female trombone player they look at me like I have three heads! lol. Thanks for this! :)


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