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Medical Imaging Enables Staff to See the "Whole" Picture  

by Sarah Deters Richardson, Curator of Musical Instruments and
Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, Conservation Research Assistant

The exterior of a musical instrument can tell a story: the materials used for decoration may point to the social class of the owner; the intricacy of carvings to the skill of the maker; scratches and marks may indicate the amount of use an instrument endured; and the design itself may provide clues that point to the region in which it was made. These easily observable characteristics may lead researchers and scholars to a discovery of the history and context of an instrument’s construction and use, but much valuable information still remains to be discovered on the inside of an instrument.

Unfortunately, observing the interior of an instrument is often easier said than done. One cannot just "lift up the hood" to view what is underneath the top of a string instrument or easily look inside the tubing of a brass instrument to see how it is constructed. Researchers can employ various devices and techniques to “see” inside instruments, such as using small mirrors, infrared photography, and small cameras, but these techniques never truly reveal the whole picture.

CT scan of Henry IV Amati violin

X-ray technology has been in use as a nondestructive method to document musical instruments since 1949. It allows scholars to access and observe the interior of instruments in order to gather vital information otherwise unreachable, such as construction methods, materials used, earlier repairs, and evidence of structural damage. Today, x-rays have been replaced with computed tomography (CT), a medical imaging technology that generates a three-dimensional image of the inside of an object, simultaneously producing digital data that can be manipulated to capture images at different angles and of views that are impossible to obtain with conventional x-ray technology. The image seen at left, for example, was captured from a CT scan of The King Henry IV violin made by the Brothers Amati in Cremona, ca. 1595 (NMM 14470).

On May 5, 2010, three members of the NMM staff—John Koster, Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, and Sarah Deters Richardson—traveled to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls in hopes of accomplishing what is, under normal circumstances, virtually impossible: examining the interiors of five instruments. This was accomplished by using both CT scanning and endoscopic imaging technologies. Brad Randall, Chairman of the NMM Board of Trustees and Minnehaha County Coroner, facilitated arrangements with the Sanford Hospital, which generously donated the assistance of their staff and use of their equipment.

NMM Staff at Sanford Hospital, Sioux Falls

Bass lute being scanned

The five instruments that were CT scanned in Sioux Falls included a harpsichord made in Naples, Italy, ca. 1530 (NMM 14408); a serpent by C. Baudouin, Paris, ca. 1800-1825 (NMM 7123); a cittern attributed to Petrus Rautta, England, 1579 (NMM 13500); a bass lute by Andrea Harton, Venice, ca. 1600 (NMM 3381); and an archlute by Magnus Tieffenbrucker, Venice, ca. 1600 (NMM 3382). On August 10, Koster and Bouquet took the NMM's violin, The King Henry IV, made by the Brothers Amati (Cremona, ca. 1595) to the Sanford Vermillion Medical Center, for its own CT scan.

Harpsichord interior examined by endoscope
Koster and Bouquet examine harpsichord interior

The results of all the CT scans were truly remarkable. The images show hidden nails, wood-grain patterns, glue joints, repairs, and numerous other details that otherwise would have remained unseen. The harpsichord and serpent also underwent endoscopic examinations. The images taken during this procedure provided a clear view of their interiors and revealed many techniques and materials used in their construction.

Front view of The King Henry IV violin, from CT scan
Side view of The King Henry IV violin, from CT scan

The information gathered at both hospitals is being used in the creation of technical drawing of the instruments. The scanning and endoscopic imaging has significantly enhanced the amount of information the NMM is now able to make available to researchers and instrument makers.

Left: Two views of the internal structure of The King Henry IV violin by the Brothers Amati (Cremona, ca. 1595), from CT scans taken at the Sanford Vermillion Medical Center.

The Henry IV Amati violin prepared for CT scanning
Watching the CT scanning of The King Henry IV violin

Randy Jarvis, Radiology Manager at the Sanford Vermillion Medical Center, watches as Jonathan Bouquet, NMM Conservation Research Assistant, adjusts The King Henry IV violin by the Brothers Amati (Cremona, ca. 1595) prior to taking a CT scan of the instrument on August 10, 2010.


View from the CT scan operator's room as The King Henry IV violin is scanned. Detailed images of the violin, such as those seen on the computer monitor, are now permanently available to the NMM staff for research purposes.

Return to NMM Newsletter Index (August 2010)

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©National Music Museum, 2010
Most recent update: August 27, 2010

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