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Images from the First Floor Hallway
Ex coll.: Rothschild Collection, Vienna
Arne B. & Jeanne F. Larson Fund, 2007
As told by the Associated Press, which sent the story to newspapers around the world, the NMM acquired the only English-made Renaissance cittern known to survive, after fierce bidding against several museums—including the Metropolitan Museum of Art—at an auction held at Christies in New York on April 2, 2007.
The small, delicately carved, four-course cittern dates from the time and place where some of the finest music of the Renaissance was written. This metal-strung instrument, with its distinctive sound, was previously in the Rothschild Collection in Vienna.
The label inside is extremely difficult to see, read, decipher, or photograph, due not only to its location, but also because it is abraded. John Koster, NMM Conservator, examined the label using visible light under magnification, as well as through an infrared viewer. His best reading is Petrus Rautta / Anno Domini [?]79, although the words, Anno Domini, are uncertain and might even designate a place name.
Andrew Dipper (Claire Givens Violins, Minneapolis) took several photos of the label through the rose, using an Aptec digital camera with a special lens adapted from a scanner and illuminated through a 2 mm crack in the ribs. To see these images, click here: view 1, view 2, view 3.
The back is constructed from alternating strips of plum and maple, a decorative feature also used on early English viols. The neck and sides are pearwood. The delicate rose combines carved wood with punched, gilded parchment. The pegbox and neck heel are adorned with relief-carved vines over a punched and stippled background, a style often seen on English instruments of the 16th and 17th centuries.
A small English cittern is illustrated and described in Michael Praetorius' treatise, Syntagma Musicum (1619), where the author relates a mysterious anecdote regarding an English cittern player: "About three years ago an Englishman came to Germany with a very small citterlein, the back of which was left half open and not glued. On it, he could bring about a strange but very lovely and beautiful harmony with fine, pure diminutions and trembling hand, so that it is heard with curious pleasure. [This sound/technique] might now be practiced in the same manner by some distinguished lutenists."
The oldest English cittern music dates back to the mid-sixteenth century and is written for instruments such as this one, with four or five double courses of strings. Popular method books written for the English cittern included Antony [sic] Holborne's The Cittharn Schoole (1597) and Thomas Robinson's New Citharen Lessons (1609). The cittern's popularity continued through the seventeenth century, as evidenced by collections of music such as Musick's Delight on the Cithren, Restored and Refined (1666), published in London by John Playford.
Head: hardwood with pegbox terminating in a dog's head with extended tongue; nose made from separate piece of hardwood; front edges of pegbox walls carved with geometric surface pattern; sides and back of pegbox impressed with hollow, circular stippling tool; raised circles at peg holes; raised foliate carving on peghead back, with impressed circles and points; burned stars on the three-leaf clover on each side of pegbox near saddle. Pegs: eight, brown-stained maple with large collars and integral pins.
The fanciful head is carved in the form of a howling dog, perhaps a humorous reference to the quality of the music played on the instrument, a word-play on a text or person now lost to us, or simply a delightful expression of the carver's art.
Citterns had a colorful reputation in 16th-century England, as attested by references in the literature of the time. Shakespeare alludes to the typical grotesque carvings by using the term, "cittern-head," as an insult in Love's Labors Lost, written about 1595.
Neck: pear; integral with heel; filled hole on treble side near base of pegbox. Heel: heel comes to point; heel carved with raised foliate patterns, background stippled with sharp, pointed tool; burned star on bass-side tendril; separate, decoratively carved maple scrolls glued to ribs on each side of neck heel with four burned stars on each scroll, the bases of each scroll each impressed with three small circles. Fretboard: pear; 17 brass frets; medium brown hardwood shims behind 1st, 4th, 6th frets; two light-dark-light hardwood purfling strips inlaid along each side; binding on treble side of fretboard, continues into carving of pegbox; thick fretboard continues onto top; decoratively cut edge on bass side over top.
Soundboard: one-piece, quarter-cut spruce: very fine grain, broadening toward the flanks; separate spruce pieces over tops of scrolls near neck heel. Back: seven-piece alternating strips of quarter-cut maple with narrow curl (three pieces) and plum cut off-the-quarter (four pieces); extends over neck heel with hardwood strip reinforcement between back and neck heel. Ribs: two-piece pear or apple: plain; ribs cover outer edges of back in upper bouts but not lower bouts. Edging: none. Purfling: double strips of light-dark-light purfling on top; double strips of light-dark-light purfling around outline of dark wood staves of back. Varnish: dark red with slight cracquelure, later; probably French-polished. Other: metal pin between lower ribs below string holder, on lower treble side of rib at lower block; on back at lower treble edge, and at center of back lower edge; maple pin through back into lower block on bass side of center, maple pin through top lower treble edge, and two maple pins through crack in lower treble rib.
Rose: round soundhole with carved wood and gilded parchment geometric rose; relief-carved rose at center; surrounded by two strips of dark-light-dark purfling, the inner strip not set in from edge.
New bridge by Andrew Dipper (2007) adapted from woodcuts in Thomas Robinson's New Citharen Lessons (1609) and John Playford's Musicke's Delight on the Cithren (1666).
Linings: kerfed dark brown hardwood. Neck block: possibly spruce, the fine grain running parallel to plane of top and back; flat outer surface. End block: maple or birch. Top bracing: two spruce lateral braces with chamfered edges and concave lower edges, one through upper half of soundhole, and one at widest point of body; small spruce brace under center of rose; wood cleats on inside of top at center. Back bracing: two spruce lateral braces with chamfered edges and concave lower edges, one below soundhole, placed lower on body than corresponding top brace, one at widest point of body, slightly higher than corresponding top brace, bass end of this bracket set into spruce block.
Total cittern length: 603 mm (without comb); 617 mm (with comb)
Fine Musical Instruments, Monday 2 April 2007 (New York: Christie's), Lot 34, p. 11.
Associated Press, "Stradivari Violin Goes for $2.7M," The New York Times (April 3, 2007).
Jay Kirschemann, "Rare Ancestor of Guitar Finds its Way to S. D.," Sioux Falls Argus Leader (April 5, 2007), pp. 1A & 5A.
Jennifer Muhmel, "Museum Gets Only Known English Cittern," The Volante (April 25, 2007), pp. A1 & A6.
Andrew Hartig, "Cittern, 34cm mensur, possibly English, circa 1600," Renovata Cythara: The Renaissance Cittern Site, Andrew Hartig, ed. (10 January 2008) (http://www.cittern.theaterofmusic.com/old/1600.html).
Arian Sheets, "Another 16th-century Treasure . . . A Unique Cittern From Shakespeare's England," National Music Museum Newsletter 35, No. 1 (February 2008), p. 1.
Ronald Broude, "Playing On Originals: The Material Presence of the Past," Early Music America 15, No. 4 (Winter 2009): 35.