CHAPTER 3: History to 1800 > Early Renaissance - 15th century

Illustrations - 1 of 15

The illustrations of 15th-century dulcimers reveal a remarkably rich pattern of types, but virtually no variation in social setting: their players are all either members of the higher classes, or else angels and the like.

As discussed in Chapter 1, the most meaningful way to group the instruments is according to their bridging systems: we may give each a type number, the first digit of which shows how many bridges there are, while the second denotes shape, in order of complexity starting with the simplest.

When considering the number of bridges, we would not count a piece of wood which appears to be a bridge, but the function of which is to mark the end of the string's playing length: i.e. we are only concerned with bridges which divide a string into several playing portions. The word 'playing' is preferable to the more obvious 'playable', because some instruments have lengths of string which are eminently playable, but are in fact, not normally played: the koto/cheng group are examples.

There is. of course, always the doubt that for any one of a number of reasons, the artist may not have portrayed his subject with accurate attention to detail; and even if he did, the existence of an illustration gives no direct clue as to how widespread such instruments were. However, to obtain a general impression of the history of the instrument, one must make enlightened value judgements, as to both the accuracy of the representations and the distribution of the type.

The question of perspective also causes problems in interpretation, since there is often enough room for doubt as to whether a particular illustration is intended to show a rectangle or a trapeze.