CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.2. Higher cultures in the 17th & 18th centuries: Romance language-area

Instruments: Characteristics of 17th & 18thC. salterii and psaltérions

How much information is there?
Makers and places
Changes within the period
Shape and size
Box construction


Decoration of the Italian instruments, particularly, had some rather standard features: there was nearly always gold-painted moulding at the edge of the soundboard, and instruments were usually tinted in other ways as well.

One of the characteristics of the instruments of the higher cultures is the sound-hole rose, or roses; on the popular instruments this was almost invariably carved out of wood - usually the soundboard itself, worked in situ - while the procedure with the instruments of the gentry was to insert separate roses, made of finely-wrought metal, or delicately cut and painted paper or parchment: Diderot's reference to cutting away a hole for the insertion of the rose has already been quoted.

The instrument in fig. 87 has roses of pierced leather, and the gilded and beautifully-carved wooden rose in fig. 91 is untypical. Eight instruments have moulded feet, one at each corner, while nine have a case in which to sit - either their own, or quite often from another time or place completely: one such case, Stockholm F 256, is padded, perhaps with travelling in mind, while at the other extreme another, Stockholm, Roca 1734, has legs, anticipating the Durand dulcimer of the 1860s.


fig. 87: salterio, "in Brescia da Gion Zino 1692"
cedarwood, leather roses
(Sotherby's 5th May 1976, lot 41)

fig. 88: 18thC. salterio, V&A museum (museum photo)

fig. 72: 18thC. psaltérion,
V&A Museum
(photo Bob Green)

fig. 90: close-up of fig. 72:
gilding, case, long bridges,
extension for bass strings
18thC dulcimer, V&A (photo DK)

fig. 92: 18thC. psaltérion,
MHM Stockholm
(photo Henry Ragnarsson)

fig. 91: carved and gilded wooden rose,
psaltérion, V&A
(photo DK)

fig. 97: feet, decoration, 'chessmen':
still life by Sebastiano Lazari,
Witts collection, Courtauld Institute,
from Donington