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

Illustrations - 2 of 15

Type 0 The first group are those instruments which are shown as having no bridge at all, being of the same type as the 12th-century Byzantine carving in fig. 13. The simplest forms of these are oblongs, their sides in the proportions of about 1:2 or 1:3, and the strings often appear to be placed so close together as to make selection of a single note very difficult. It is conceivable that on at least some such instruments they were actually played all at once, as drones, corresponding to a horizontal version of the tambourin à cordes (c.f. fig. 14. ).

fig. 16: 'Heaven' from The Seven Deadly Sins, c.1475-80, Jheronimus Bosch

Of the six examples, five are angels or symbolic representations, and only one is shown in anything that could be considered a performing situation, that of Bosch, fig. 16: it is one of four tondi (35) surrounding a portrayal of the Seven Deadly Sins, the four showing Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven, and, somewhat unusually, the dulcimer is shown as one of the instruments of heaven.

The trio includes a harp and a wind instrument, perhaps a shawm, and similar combinations have been found in practice to sound very satisfying, both for dance music and, even more so, for softer polyphonic pieces.

One might expect to find Bosch depicting instruments rather accurately - as Martin writes: 'he generally relied on an accumulation of sharply observed detail' (36) - but an examination of eight instruments, portrayed in the more readily-available reproductions of Bosch's works, showed that only two or three, were shown with any attention to detail. These were the celebrated harp and pommer - and, arguably, the hurdy-gurdy, although the tangents do not appear to be realistically spaced - in the Garden of Delights (36) all painted about four times as large as the dulcimer under discussion.

The accompanying harp in the Seven Deadly-Sins has only six rather widely-spaced strings, so we may conclude that true-to-life representations of instruments were perhaps not what Bosch considered most important in his work, and that his dulcimer may not have been particularly close to life.

Against this it would be pointed out that all the examples of this type of dulcimer are consistent in having rather few strings (about six to eight).