How reliable is medieval music iconography? Part 3/3: Making the Martini gittern

The first of these three articles focussed on understanding the nature of medieval art, its artistic conventions and relationship to reality. The second suggested 10 principles for a luthier or music historian to follow when gathering practical information about musical instruments from medieval iconography.

This third article applies the historical knowledge of the first article and the principles of the second to the reconstruction of a very special gittern, painted in 1312–18 by Simone Martini, part of a fresco in Cappella di San Martino (Chapel of Saint Martin), San Francesco, Assisi, Italy. The gittern reconstruction, commissioned by musician Ian Pittaway and made by luthier Paul Baker, could only have been made as a result of an historically-informed study of iconography. This article describes the process, the questions that were answered, the questions that remain, and the musical results, with a video of the Martini gittern being played.

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The citole: from confusion to clarity. Part 1/2: What is a citole?

© Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

The citole, a plucked fingerboard instrument of the 13th and 14th centuries, is today the most misunderstood of all medieval instruments. It is regularly wrongly identified as a plucked fiddle or a guitar, often confused with the cetra, and mistaken assumptions are made about its string material and its distinctive wedge neck with a thumb-hole.

Using the surviving British Museum citole, medieval iconography and medieval testimony, these two articles set out the evidence, drawing on the ground-breaking research of Laurence Wright, Crawford Young and Alice Margerum, with some additional observations.

This first article describes the citole’s physical form, string material and tuning. The second article describes the playing style and repertoire of the instrument.

We begin this article with video of a copy of the British Museum citole playing music from c. 1300: La seconde Estampie RoyalThe second Royal Estampie. Read more

The gittern: a short history

Angelic gittern player, from the Cathedral Saint Julien du Mans, France, c. 1300–1325. The gittern was one of the most important plucked fingerboard instruments of the late medieval period. Loved by all levels of society, it was played by royal appointment, in religious service, in taverns, for singing, for dancing, and in duets with the lute. Yet we know of no specific pieces played on this instrument. What we do have are many representations of it being played in a wide variety of contexts and one surviving instrument of the 15th century, and from this we can reconstruct something of the history and repertoire of this widely-loved instrument. This article begins with a video of a troubadour melody played on gittern.

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The lute: a brief history from the 13th to the 18th century

Lorenzo Costa, A Concert, c. 1485-95.

The lute’s musical versatility, giving one musician the ability to play several polyphonic parts over a wide and increasing pitch range, made it once the most popular instrument in Europe, the ‘prince’ of all instruments. From the Arabian oud to the medieval, renaissance and baroque lutes, this article briefly charts the development of this versatile, beautiful and enduring instrument, featuring 8 videos illustrating the changes and developments of the lute and its music.

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