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Cittern, attributed to Urbino, ca. 1550

NMM 3386.  Cittern attributed to Urbino, ca. 1550 Front of cittern Bass side of cittern Treble side of cittern Back of cittern

Note: Click on any image on this page to see a larger image.

NMM 3386. Cittern attributed to Urbino, Italy, ca. 1550.   The body, long neck, and pegbox terminating in an openwork scroll are carved from a single piece of wood, like several other extant citterns from Urbino. What appear to be strips of inlaid purfling on the back and top are, in fact, incised and painted lines. The rose is carved from a separate piece of hardwood and set into the spruce top. This cittern was originally designed for six or seven courses (groups of two or three strings), but its configuration may have been changed early in its history. One distinctive feature is a top brace set into notches in the ribs, such that the triangular profiles of its ends are visible on the sides of the instrument. This technique is also found on another early cittern (privately owned), inscribed A. Rossi Urbino [1550 or 1530]. Another cittern with an open scroll survives in London at the Victoria & Albert Museum, but it does not have the elaborate body. Urbino is famous yet today for the Renaissance rooms in its ducal palace that were decorated between 1474-1476 with intarsia (inlaid wood) panels whose images simulate three-dimensional objects, including musical instruments. Ex coll.: Lord Waldorf Astor, Hever Castle, Cliveden, England. Witten-Rawlins Collection, 1984.

Maker's Signature

Maker's signature

Cittern makers in Urbino typically signed their instrumets in ink on the side of the neck, near the body, but on this example, the name of the maker is illegible, having been worn away over the years.

Views of Pegbox

Front of peghead Bass side of peghead Treble side of peghead Back of peghead

Details of Peghead Carvings

Open scroll
Side view of carvings on back of peghead
Grotesque face on back of peghead
Small animal on back of peghead
Front view of small animal on back of peghead

Head: maple; open-carved stroll, the scroll itself later; carved grotesque face; gargoyle-like head of a small animal; hook; incised foliate decoration; and incised lines in imitation of purfling on back.

Nut: bone.

Pegs: brown-stained maple, made by Gary Stewart (1985), pattened after those on the Virchi cittern at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; two additional peg holes on bass side of head and one on treble side of head, with string wear on head suggesting historical use of pegs at these locations.

Views of Neck and Neck Heel

Fretboard Back of neck, view 1 Back of neck, view 2

Neck: maple; carved grotesque lionís head with extended tongue at neck heel; incised lines on thinner part of neck, in imitation of purfling; integral with head.

Fretboard: maple; brass frets secured to fretboard with ebony inserts inset behind frets.

Neck heel, view 1 Neck heel, view 2 Back of neck, view 3

Front, Back, and Side Views of Body

Bass side of body Treble side of body Back of body

Note:  Click on front and back corners above to see enlargements of those details.

Soundboard: two-piece, quarter-cut spruce or pine: wide grain.

Back: one-piece maple, carved from one piece and integral with ribs.

Ribs: one-piece maple, carved from one piece and integral with back.

Top bracing: a lateral, softwood brace underneath the soundhole extends into notches through ribs, such that its triangular ends are visible from the outside of the instrument.

Varnish: reddish-amber.

Coat-of-Arms and Flowers on Back of Cittern

Coat-of-arms on back of cittern

Flowers on left side of back Flowers on right side of back

A coat-of-arms with the initials, G P (as yet unidentified), is carved at the top of the maple back. The letter, P, is inscribed below the coat-of-arms. Floral designs are inscribed on both sides of the lower back bout.



Rose: carved hardwood, probably a fruitwood, backed with parchment; foliate design.



Bridge: black-stained maple; made by Gary M. Stewart, 1985.

Views of String Holder and Bottom of Cittern

Front of string holder Back of string holder, view 2

Bottom of string holder Back of string holder, view 1

Pin on lower end of back

Bottom of cittern



Total cittern length: 972.5 mm
Back length, including heel: 432 mm
Upper point width, back: 183 mm
Waist width, back: 160 mm
Lower point width, back: 258 mm
Lower bout width, back: 286 mm
Top length: 457 mm
Upper point width, top: 197 mm
Waist width, top: 162 mm
Lower point width, top: 275 mm
Lower bout width, top: 308 mm
Rib height at heel: 63.5 mm / 63.7 mm
Rib height at waist: 62.8 mm / 59.6 mm
Rib height at comb: 44 mm
Head length: 280 mm
Head width, top: 20 mm
Head width, bottom: 54.6 mm
Neck length (nut to ribs): 307.5 mm
Neck width, nut: 56.2 mm
Neck width, heel: 50.9 mm
Soundhole height: 92.5 mm
Vibrating string length (nut to bridge edge): 615.6 mm



André P. Larson, "Early Italian Plucked Stringed Instruments at the Shrine to Music Museum," Lute Society of America Newsletter, 20, No. 1 (February 1985), p. 7.

"Utah Students Visit; Restoration Admired," The Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter 13, No. 3 (April 1986), p. 4.

Margaret Downie Banks, "The Witten-Rawlins Collection and Other Early Italian Stringed Instruments at the Shrine to Music Museum," Journal of the Violin Society of America, 8, No. 3 (1987), pp. 23-24.

Joseph R. Johnson, "The Witten-Rawlins Collection of North Italian String Instruments," American Lutherie, No. 15 (1988), reprinted in The Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Two: 1988-1990, Tim Olsen, editor (Tacoma, Washington: Guild of American Luthiers, 2000), pp. 100-102.

André P. Larson, The National Music Museum: A Pictorial Souvenir (Vermillion: National Music Museum, 1988), inside front cover and pp. 46-47.

Gary M. Stewart, "A Mid-Sixteenth-Century Italian Cittern at the University of South Dakota," CIMCIM Newsletter 14 (1989), pp. 31-32.

"A Treasure from the Witten-Rawlins Collection," National Music Museum Newsletter 34, No. 1 (February 2007), p. 3.

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Front, upper bass corner Front, upper treble corner Front, bottom bass corner Front, bottom treble corner Back, upper treble corner Back, upper bass corner Back, lower treble corner Back, lower bass corner