CHAPTER 3: History to 1800 > Later Renaissance - 16th century

Illustrations - 2 of 10

fig. 42: Virgem da Glória/Virgen con Angelas Musicas, c.1500 - Flemish altarpiece, Museu de Evora, Portugal

Of the remaining 16 examples (illustrations and surviving instruments) all but two have a new bridging arrangement which is seen for the first time in an altarpiece from c. 1500 (fig. 42). All the treble strings pass over one long treble bridge, and are divided in two, as far as can be seen, at the ratio of 2:3; this much corresponds to type 1, like two of the 15th century examples. But what is new is that the strings are arranged in two planes, one half (approximately) the number of the strings passing over the treble bridge, the rest passing over a second bridge, which does not divide them, but only acts as a raised end-stop. It will be noticed that the bass bridge does not conform to the definition used above, but is in function a saddle; it is always called a bridge however and to change the nomenclature would lead to more confusion than to be consistent: a 'bass-bridge' is normally physically identical to the treble bridge, but it is its position which determines its nature and function.

In order to denote a separate type number for instruments using a bass bridge, a second digit will be added before the decimal point: '1' thus indicates a single treble bridge and no bass bridge, whilst '11' will be used for a single treble bridge and a single bass bridge. The digit after the decimal point may continue to show the shape, as before.

The Evora dulcimer is therefore of type 11.4, having a 'pig's head' shape, and appears to be unique: it is a fascinating mixture, the new bridging arrangement built on the old psaltery-shaped body, but since the illustration is an angel representation it is conceivable that the artist himself introduced the porco shape as part of a conservative ecclesiastical style. The instrument also shows three other innovations:

  1. Triple courses of strings:
  2. An inconsistent number of strings per course, i.e. there is one course with only two strings to it: this is the course nearest the player, hence the longest, and may be considered as a deeper bass note using thicker strings and therefore requiring fewer per course. This feature becomes increasingly common through the ages.
  3. The tuning pins are inserted, not vertically in the top, nor horizontally in the side, but at an angle of c.45° in a concave side piece.

All in all this is a remarkable instrument, although quite atypical.