A highly decorated hexagonal Venetian virginal. The compass is C/E–f3, four and a half octaves with a short octave. The short octave is a way of extending the compass without adding accidentals which would not have been needed in bass lines at this time. Thus, while the lowest note appears to be E, it would have been tuned to C. Surviving instruments are highly decorated, demonstrating the importance of musical instruments as visual as well as oral objects and signifiers of culture, status and wealth. Here, the rose, fixed into the circular hole cut into the soundboard, is made up of 4 intricately cut layers of parchment which have been gilded. While many instruments of the period are designed to be housed in an outer case, this example is built simply to give that appearance, described as a ‘false inner-outer’. While it has been suggested that the present red velvet tacked onto the outside of the case is a 19th-century accretion, there is no doubt that the extremely fine lacquer work found on other parts of the case is original. Of a type known as lacca da Venezia, the decoration, painted onto cypress strapwork, draws inspiration from middle-Eastern techniques and designs. The three vignettes on the nameboard, painted onto mother-of-pearl lozenges, show three episodes from the life of Apollo, the Greek god of music: Apollo playing to the beasts; Apollo & Daphne; and Apollo & Pan.
Length: 1457mm. Height: 181mm.