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NMM 3985.  Harpsichord by Gommaar van Everbroeck, Antwerp, 1659.
Rawlins Fund, 1986.

NMM 3985. Harpsichord by Gommaar van Everbroeck, Antwerp, 1659.

Harpsichord making in the Low Countries (present-day Belgium and the Netherlands) during the first five and a half decades of the seventeenth century was dominated by the two workshops of the Ruckers family in Antwerp. One of these workshops was headed by Joannes Ruckers, who was succeeded upon his death in 1642 by his nephew, Jan Couchet; the other was headed by Andreas Ruckers, who was succeeded by his son Andreas. Gommaar van Everbroeck (b. ca. 1603/04-d. after 1666) was presumably one of the many employees in the first of these shops, since Couchet's wife, Angela vanden Brandt, was the godmother to van Everbroeck's newborn twins in 1649. The vacuum left by the deaths of Jan Couchet and of both Andreas Ruckers senior and junior in the mid-1650s provided opportunities for makers like van Everbroeck to set up on their own. Thus, van Everbroeck entered Antwerp’s Guild of St. Luke as a master harpsichord maker in 1655-56. Tellingly, the soundboard of the NMM’s van Everbroeck harpsichord was painted by the same anonymous artist who previously had decorated soundboards exclusively for Joannes Ruckers and Jan Couchet.

This, the only surviving harpsichord by van Everbroeck, displays the maker’s adherence to the Ruckers-Couchet tradition of design, workmanship, and decoration. It is particularly important as a rare example of a 17th-century Flemish harpsichord that (unlike the NMM’s two instruments by Andreas Ruckers) was not altered in the 18th century, either in its decoration or its musical resources. It retains its original keyboard with bone-covered naturals, bog-oak sharps, and the 50-note compass of apparent BB (conventionally tuned to GG) to c3. (The arcades on the key fronts are modern replacements, as is the stand upon which the instrument rests.) The disposition is one eight-foot register, one four-foot register, with a buff stop on the eight-foot register. As in several Ruckers and Couchet instruments of the 1640s and 1650s, the string lengths of the van Everbroeck harpsichord are somewhat shorter than usual, indicating that the instrument was intended to be tuned a whole tone above the usual Antwerp standard pitch.

Decorative Elements

Antwerp harpsichords were made to delight not just the sense of hearing but also that of sight. Their interiors, in addition to opulently painted soundboards, were traditionally decorated with woodblock-printed papers. Several of the wide variety of these paper patterns available in Antwerp are found on the NMM's van Everbroeck harpsichord.

The unusual pattern above the keyboard consists of intertwining honeysuckle vines, flowers, and leaves through which run lions, cherubs, and griffins (creatures with the heads and wings of eagles and the bodies of lions). Below, painted in red on the name batten, is the maker's inscription, in Latin, "Gommaar van Everbroeck made (me) in Antwerp." The Latin motto on the fallboard, located below the keyboard, can be translated "Not unless stirred do I sing."

Click on images below to see enlargements of decorative features.

The interior of the lid features paper printed in imitation of the distinctive wood grain of Hungarian ash, over which is lettered a Latin motto, "Reader, neither the author nor the work requires your praise: the work glorifies the author; the author [glorifies] the work."

Motto on interior of lid

Click on lid to see a larger image.

NMM 3985. Harpsichord by Gommaar van Everbroeck, Antwerp, 1659.  

The exterior of the lid, like the rest of the case, is painted in imitation of the red marble from Rochefort (in southern Belgium), with which the façade of the Antwerp city hall is faced.

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Soundboard Decoration

The 17th-century Flemish interest in allegory, symbolism, and the precise depiction of nature in art is reflected in the decoration of their harpsichord soundboards. These, like the 17th-century Flemish paintings intended to be framed and hung on walls, can be interpreted allegorically. Working from pattern books, painters of harpsichord soundboards created crowded, miniature gardens of stylized flowers, fruits, vegetables, insects, birds, moths, shrimp, snails, and other animals. Some soundboard paintings might be considered allegories of the five senses, a common theme in Flemish still-life paintings of the period, in which flowers are symbolically depicted to please the senses of sight, smell, and touch. Fruits and vegetables symbolically please the sense of taste and birds symbolize the sense of hearing. The harpsichord itself, when played, should be pleasing to the senses of sight, touch, and hearing. The gilt, cast-lead rose displays the maker's initials, GVE, surrounding a putto playing a harp . The date, 1659, is painted in red on the soundboard between the bass end of the eight-foot bridge and the spine.

Click on any area below to see an enlargement of that area.

Plan View
Wrestplank Soundboard painting Parrot Soundboard painting Date:  1659

Van Everbroeck's "Serial Number"

The maker’s "serial number," consisting of the ligature st (the abbreviation for steert, "tail," meaning "harpsichord") over the number 7, is written in ink on the bass side piece of the key frame (left), on the back of the name battern (right), and on the GG/BB key lever (not shown).

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Mark found on bottom key Mark found on bottom key

Literature:   André P. Larson, The National Music Museum: A Pictorial Souvenir (Vermillion: National Music Museum, 1988), p. 42.

Grant O'Brien, Ruckers: a Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 153.

Darcy Kuronen, "Keyboard Instruments at The Shrine to Music Museum," Early Keyboard Studies Newsletter, Vol. VI, No. 1 (October 1991), p. 7.

Donald H. Boalch, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440-1840. Third edition, edited by Charles Mould (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 308.

Sheridan Germann, "Harpsichord Decoration: A Conspectus," in Howard Schott, ed., The Historical Harpsichord, Vol. 4 (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2002), pp. 1-213, specifically, p. 113.

Edward L. Kottick, A History of the Harpsichord (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003), p. 118.

John Koster, "Two Antwerp Harpsichords from the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century," in J. Lambrechts-Douillez and J. Koster, Mededelingen van het Ruckers-Genootschap 8 (Antwerp: Ruckers Genootschap, 2009), pp. 105-127.

John Koster, "Domenico Scarlatti and the Transformation of Iberian Harpsichord Making," in Domenico Scarlatti en España / Domenico Scarlatti in Spain, Luisa Morales, ed. (Garrucha, Almería, Spain: Asociación Cultural LEAL, 2009), pp. 187-208 (especially fig. 3a).

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Woodblock-printed paper above the keybaord Maker's inscription painted on name batten Latin motto on fallbaord