Monday, August 7, 2023

A Lute Spotting (Another Lute Identified?)

Another one of my favorite lute paintings is Peter Paul Rubens' (1577-1640) painting of the lute player wearing the ruff.  Rubens painted this glorious painting, circa 1609-1610 and it is very much in the formal portrait style of so many Dutch paintings of the period.  What stands out is the wonderfully detailed and accurate depiction of the lute being held by the sitter.  The subject serious and confident, and certainly seems to know what he's doing.   This is not a prop found in the corner of the artist's studio!  

This lute seems to be a 10-course on the larger size- perhaps approximately a 70cm string length.  The lute seems to be in the "old" renaissance tuning, given that the left hand fingers are in the nominal Bb major chord position.  This would seem to be the standard tuning in 1609-1610 in the Netherlands, contemporary with Van Der Hove and Vallet's publications of lute music.

Lute Player (1609-1610) Musée des Beaux Arts in Troyes (1)

This lute in the painting looks to be very similar to the surviving Hans Frei lute in the Warwick County Museum in the UK.  This lute known as the "Warwick Frei", which survives as a 10-course lute, but there is evidence that there was a treble rider that broke off and was never replaced.  The body has been thought to be originally from the early to mid 16th Century, probably originally built as a 6 course lute, and went through subsequent changes as tastes changed as the years went by.

I am not insinuating that the lute in the painting is the exact same as the one in the Warwick museum- the lute in the painting includes an inlaid spade behind the bridge and a different rose.  Also, Rubens was detailed enough to include the crack in the soundboard between the spade inlay and the bridge- common misfortune that lutenists have dealt with for hundreds of years as this painting points out!

 The Hans Frei lute on display in the Warwick County Museum

Three views of the lute-


Regarding the "Warwick Frei", something that's interesting to me is that the style and geometry of the body seems to be unique- even Hans Frei's other lutes that survive bear little resemblance to this instrument- The contour of the body and deep end clasp seem to be unlike other lutes.  If you know of other Frei lutes that are similar, feel free to comment.

Here is a recent Eleven Course version that I made recently.  It has a slightly longer string length at 71cm and the added treble rider for the chanterelle.

I'll finish with this interesting side note- Rubens seems to have painted the same man when he was younger in 1597.  No lute though- perhaps he left his seven course lute that he had at the time at home for this painting?  

Portrait of a Man, 1597 Possibly an Architect or Geographer, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), New York City, NY, US

(1) (edited 9/16/2023 for location of painting)

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