Frangipane undoubtedly appears to best advantage in his comical secular representations, depicted in a realistic manner with a satirical and often scabrous iconography. This Satire on the performance of a madrigal relates to the signed work, of similar dimensions, in the collection of the Comte F. de Liederkecke, Château de Leefdael, Belgium (see Meijer, op. cit., p. 23, no. 16, fig. 33). With its lively composition and naturalistic details, this subject is perhaps the most successful of the artist's non-religious paintings.
Seated to the left of a table, four male singers are performing. Their voices - from left to right bass, alto, tenor and (probably) cantus - are indicated not only by the partbooks they hold but also by their age and appearance. They are singing one of the elegant pieces from Franco-Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso's third book of Madrigals, a setting of a sonnet by Pietro Bembo. Like the texts of many other polyphonic madrigals, this sonnet is a sentimental, docile lament intended to pay homage to an idealized lady.
In direct contrast to the woeful and serious-looking singers are the figures gathered around them, a motley crew clearly in a rowdy and playful mood. They are, from left to right: a satyr, sensuality personified and crowned with oak leaves; two peasants or shepherds with pastoral instruments; in front of them, a Jew is recognizable from his turban with a star, which is about to be pulled by the satyr and which was compulsory for sixteenth-century Venetian Jews; a Bacchus figure, looking drowsy and corpulent; a sniggering man who is holding his finger mockingly to his mouth, apparently amused at something not polite enough to be mentioned out loud; a youth drinking from a jug; and finally a grinning man seated in the right foreground.
The merriment and mockery, like the finger pointed in sarcasm by the last figure, seem to be aimed at the singers and caused in particular by the affected nature of their love song, which obviously puns upon carnal intention. This is made plain by the suggestive still life on the table, strategically placed and hidden behind the tenor's partbook: partly-sliced sausages are grouped in the shape of a phallus, with the aid of some bread. Subsequent and more delicate sensibilities have deemed it necessary to cover up part of the offending still life, but the complete composition can still be seen in the de Liederkecke picture. However, further hints are to be found in other erotic insinuations scattered throughout the painting, such as the bowl of wine and bread Bacchus is holding in one hand and the sausage in the other, the bare thigh of the drinking youth and the predatory attitude of the cat on the bass's lap. The cat, a well-established symbol of sexuality, is about to pounce on the ring-ouzel perched on the sword-hilt of the man seated in the foreground. The oblivious bird joins in the singing presumably in an attempt to fill the missing fifth part in Lasso's score. The underlying idea of this representation is thus that there is a sub-current of eroticism and carnal desires hiding behind the elevated musical expression of infatuation.