Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unusual Artifacts: The Baffo Harpsichord, 1574

The Baffo Harpsichord
Italy, 1574
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Putting aside any preconceived notions of harpsichords that we might have based on Lurch, let’s take a look at one from 1574 which was made in Italy. This harpsichord was built by Giovanni Baffo who was the leading maker of harpsichords in Venice. During the Sixteenth Century, Venice was one of the main instrument-producing centers in Europe. This magnificent instrument is decorated with traditional Islamic patterns. Such patterns were then widely used in Venice. But, the instrument also features the classical motifs, such as Apollo and the Muses--suitable themes for musical instruments—which were fashionable at the time. Through the centuries, this harpsichord has endured a number of changes--including the altering of the range of the notes. This alteration was a sign that even if musical fashions and ranges changed during the next century, the prestige of Baffo's instruments remained intact.

The harpsichord features a pine case with an inner face veneered with rosewood, and is partly inlaid with boxwood with a cypress soundboard. The edges of the instrument, jack rail and base of the keyboard are decorated with ivory studs while the nameboard and inner sides above the sound board, are veneered with rosewood, and decorated with gilt moresques and inlaid with patterns of ivory and boxwood. The maker has signed and dated the instrument on the nameboard.
The inside of the lid is elaborately adorned with a grotesque ornament and two winged putti holding up the three-crescent emblem of the Strozzi family, for whom the instrument was made. The main part of the lid is dominated with a cartouche containing Apollo and the Muses. Further adornment includes masks, bat-wing lunettes and sphinxes and other grotesques. Curiously, the decoration is crudely cut off at a later date.

No comments: