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Sixteenth-Century Lira da Braccio

NNM 4203.  Lira da braccio by Francesco Linarol, Venice, 1563

NMM 4203. Lira da braccio by Francesco Linarol, Venice, 1563. Ex coll.: W. E. Hill & Sons, London. Rawlins Fund, 1988.

One of the most important stringed instruments of the Renaissance, the lira da braccio was used primarily by courtly poet-musicians in Italy to accompany themselves while reciting poetry. The five strings over the fingerboard were played with a bow, while the two strings on the instrument's bass side were plucked by the player's left thumb. A Latin motto or saying is painted on the carved ribs of this lira da braccio and describes the playing of the instrument. It can be translated: "while the horse [referring to the horse-hair on the bow] crosses the sheep [referring to the strings, traditionally made of sheep gut] up and down, the wood [referring to the lira] returns a mellifluous sound; hail the playing hand."

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