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

Illustrations - 13 of 15

Type 2 - two bridges

The instruments forming the last group of early Renaissance dulcimers are intriguing as they are enigmatic: they all have more than one bridge. dividing rather few strings, stretched across a long thin oblong whose sides are in the ratio of about 1:4 or 1:3.

The illustrations concerned are:

1. Giovanni Boccati, Madonna adoring the Child, c.1460 (fig.34);
2. Wall painting from Bellinzona, 1470/80 (fig. 33);
3. Anon. engraving, initials bx8 (undated) (fig. 31);
4. Illustration from Anne of Cleves' Book of Hours, c.1440?;
5. Brussels tapestry, Nuremberg, ref.813, c.1500 (fig. 47).

fig.31: anon. engraving, "bx8" (from Dennis; 145)

fig. 34: Madonna adoring the Child, c.1460
Giovanni Boccati (from Kinsky)
Perugia, Pinoteca Vanucci (photo Alinari)

fig.33: wall-painting from Bellinzona, Ticino, CH, c.1470-1480

fig. 47: Brusssels tapestry, c.1500, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, ref. 813

fig.30: 'staple' bridges - cross-section: c.f. figs 31,33,34

Four icons, three of them in the present group, show a special bridge with a cut-out portion leaving two or three feet, like those of the bridges of the violin family, but having much more the appearance of metal staples - fig.30:

The example not in the present group is the Lorraine instrument in group 1.4.

fig.32: Hubert Boone's interpretation of the bridging in fig.31 (section)

If we consider each of these structures to be a bridge, then the group as a whole is consistent; however, Hubert Boone has an alternative interpretation of the engraving 'bx8'. He suggests that the two outside 'bridges' are actually saddles, and that the instrument is strung according to fig. 32 . This particular example seems unconvincing evidence for the major innovation of strings crossing one another in two planes, and I prefer to wait for more positive examples.

At first sight, it certainly does look as if the strings have only two playing portions; by contrast, both the Bellinzona and the Boccati cherubs are striking their instruments on either side of the right-hand bridge, so that the model must have had a separate saddle which the artist has not shown. It rather looks in fact, as if the three bridges only give three playing lengths of string, not four as one would normally expect, but this sort of inconsistency is not particularly rare in any field of human endeavour. One of the bridges must then have served as a saddle, so that the instrument effectively had two bridges, hence "type 2". By extension, then, it becomes reasonable to interpret the 'bx8' instrument as having two bridges and three playing portions of string.