Saturday, March 13, 2021

Lute Spotting - A Lute Identified?

One of my favorite paintings featuring a lute is "The Lute Player", by the French painter Valentin de Boulogne working in Rome in the mid-1620's.  I remember seeing this for the first time on the cover of Paul O'Dette's seminal recording from the early 1990's, "Il Tedesco della Tiorba" which contained theorbo and lute solos of Kapsberger.

This wonderfully detailed and dramatic painting is in the same style of several artists of the time.  It is a fine example of "Chiaroscuro" style, which uses bold contrasts of light and dark, with the elements of the painting either highlighted by a single point of light... or hidden in the dark shades of mystery.  

This dramatic aesthetic of light and dark is also reflected in much of the Italian music of the time.  Some examples being Simone Molinaro, Alessandro Piccinini and Giovanni Kapsberger's solo lute and theorbo music (see previously mentioned recording) as well as with Monteverdi's madrigals and early operas. 

The lute in the painting seems to have a the wide body, multi-rib style seen in so many paintings of the period.  In fact, we are fortunate that several instruments of this style still survive in museum collections.  Lute makers such as Harton, Dieffopruchar, Rauwolf, Sellas and Venere of the early seventeenth century all made lutes in this style.

The lute appears to be a seven-course instrument, although I believe there was some debate on social media a few years back of whether there's an eighth course.  Perhaps a "split" seventh course with two single strings at different pitches.  Pragmatic indeed if true!  Alas, we cannot see the back to get an idea of how many ribs or the material.

For more information, the painting is part of the collection at the Met Museum in New York City

I submit for your approval...

One of the surviving lutes with which we might find a connection is the lute by Magno Dieffopruchar, Venice 1612 presently kept in the Museo Civicio in Bologna #1753.  (also a seven course!)  This lute also typifies the wide-bodied roundish lutes of the style built in Venice in the early 17th century.  Although several examples of these style of lutes survive, I think that this particular lute is a perhaps one of the more extreme examples of this style, with a profile that seems to closely match the lute in the above painting.  

                                                                                                                photo by Robert Lundberg

Well, I am not saying they are the exact same lute- indeed, the roses differ and the fingerboard points or "beards" are smaller in the painting.  However, perhaps they could have been from the same workshop and same model.  Hypothetical... but possible.  Maybe.

What do you think?