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.

Click the picture to play the video, which opens in a new window.
La tierche Estampie Roial (The third Royal Estampie) from Manuscrit du Roi, c. 1300,
played by Ian Pittaway on a construction of the Simone Martini gittern made by Paul Baker.

Simone Martini’s fresco of Saint Martin’s life

This section gives the background to all 10 scenes of Simone Martini’s fresco, to place the painting of the gittern in its historical and artistic context. If you wish to go straight to the analysis and reconstruction of the Martini gittern, go to the next section: 10 principles for examining medieval music iconography.

Gentile Portino da Montefiore (c. 1240–1312) was an Italian Franciscan friar and Cardinal. (A cardinal is appointed by the pope to a rank just below that of the pontiff.) A document of March 1312, written in Siena, testifies that Cardinal Gentile Portino decided there was to be a chapel in the lower basilica of the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, and that he paid 600 golden florins for its construction and the fresco decoration of its walls. Being 71 or 72 years old at this time, it is probable that the Cappella di San Martino (Chapel of Saint Martin) was intended to be Cardinal Gentile’s burial place, but he died in October 1312 and it was not complete until 1317–18. He was therefore buried in the adjacent Chapel of Saint Louis of Toulouse within Saint Francis’ Church.

The painter for the fresco scenes of Saint Martin’s life was Simone Martini (c. 1284–1344), a major artist of his day. Martini was probably a pupil of the leading Sienese painter, Duccio di Buoninsegna; he received commissions for work in government and ecclesiastical buildings; and he was an influence on the later International Gothic style of painting. Since Martini was born in Siena, the place Cardinal Gentile signed his commissioning document, it is highly likely that he was commissioned directly by the Cardinal for the work in March 1312.

Simone Martini’s completed fresco has 10 scenes from the life of Saint Martin. Saint Martin was born in 316 or 336 and died in 397. His first biographer was Sulpicius Severus, c. 363–c. 425, a personal friend who wrote about the saint while he lived, adding more material to his accounts after Martin died. Severus’ hagiography (life of a saint) of Martin appeared with additional material nine centuries later in Legenda sanctorum (Legend of the Saints), later known as Legenda aurea (Golden Legend), compiled by Jacobus de Voragine circa 1259–66. Copies of Legenda aurea proliferated in late medieval and early renaissance Europe, and a thousand manuscripts of the work have survived. Between the development of the western printing press in c. 1450 and the turn of the century in 1500, more editions of Legenda aurea were printed than of The Bible, translated into most European languages. In 1483, it was one of the first books William Caxton printed in English, going through nine editions by 1527.

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By the time of Cardinal Gentile’s commission in 1312, the life of Saint Martin was well-known and well-loved. The 10 scenes are painted on the walls and the barrel-vaulted ceiling: 4 scenes each on 2 opposing walls, and the remaining 2 scenes on the ceiling. The photographs above show the 8 scenes on opposing walls, to be read in order from bottom left to right, then top left to right, then the 2 scenes on the vaulted ceiling (the latter not in the photograph).  

The scenes are as follows. All quotes are from the earliest account of Saint Martin’s life by Sulpicius Severus. 

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1. The investiture of Saint Martin, a ceremony to make him a knight (above left). The gittern centre right being the main feature of this article, this scene is described in detail below.

2. Saint Martin as a soldier, leaving the army (above right). Martin said to an angry Caesar, the Emperor Julian, shown seated, “I am the soldier of Christ: it is not lawful for me to fight.”

3. Martin divides his cloak for a beggar (above left). “He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes [to give to beggars]. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder.”

4. Christ appears in a dream (above right). “In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man … The Lord, truly mindful of his own words, who had said when on earth, ‘Inasmuch as you have done these things to one of the least of these, you have done them unto me’, declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man.”

5. The miraculous Mass (above left). Legenda aurea adds to Sulpicius Severus’ account that during the elevation of the Host in the Mass, two angels rewarded Martin for the gift of the half-cloak to the beggar with a beautiful and precious piece of fabric.

6. The miracle of fire (above right). Legenda aurea states that the Emperor Valentinian refused an audience with Martin, after which his throne was miraculously set alight. Martini shows Valentinian crouched in a begging position in front of Martin, now Bishop of Tours, while the man behind the saint raises his hand to his mouth in shock.

7. The resurrected child (above left). While in prayer, Martin is approached by a woman carrying her dead daughter. She begs him to do something, and he brings the child back to life.

8. Meditation (above right). Saint Martin is deep in prayer or meditation, while two acolytes (assistant celebrants in the liturgy) try to gain his attention to celebrate Mass.

9. The death of Saint Martin (above left).

10. The burial of Saint Martin (above right). The same characters appear in both scenes, except the angels, who are not repeated in the burial scene.

10 principles for examining medieval music iconography

And so to investigate the first scene, the investiture of Saint Martin, which includes the beautifully decorated gittern, the chief focus of this article. The second of these three articles sets out 10 principles for discerning the material reality of musical instruments from portrayals in medieval art. These principles were expressed as 10 questions under 4 headings, as follows:

The importance of open enquiry

1. Do we have an enquiring approach, asking open questions rather than making closed assumptions?

The nature of medieval art

2. What aspects of the image are symbolic, and does this affect representation?
3. What artistic conventions are followed, and how does this affect representation?
4. How does the medium affect representation?
5. What skills or limitations of the artist are in evidence?

Reality testing

6. What is the practical reality of what is represented?
7. What is the contemporaneous written evidence for what we observe?
8. Can contemporaneous material evidence help interpret what we observe?
9. What is the evidence from surviving instruments?

Cumulative testimony

10. What does the cumulative weight of testimony suggest?

Simone Martini’s painting of the gittern player, shown below flanked by a trio of singers and the double duct flute player, will now be subject to these 10 principles. This process of examination resulted in the making of the gittern shown in the video which heads this article, which can also be accessed by clicking here

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1st principle: open enquiry   

In line with the principle of open enquiry, I will be asking questions about the Martini gittern in relation to gitterns generally, but without making assumptions that all gitterns were the same in every respect since there is no corroborating evidence for it, and plentiful evidence they were not: there was variety in the number of courses, whether courses were single, double or in some cases triple strung, a general standard size but a few examples of larger gitterns, and a great variety in decoration. Some conclusions I will suggest and leave open, aware that the evidence can be read more than one way.

2nd principle: take account of symbolism

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Saint Martin came from a military family. As a youth under the age of ten, Sulpicius Severus relates that Martin “was enrolled in the imperial guard, first under Constantine, and then under Julian Cæsar. This, however, was not done of his own free will for, almost from his earliest years, the holy infancy of the illustrious boy aspired rather to the service of God.” Then, “when an edict was issued by the ruling powers in the state, that the sons of veterans should be enrolled for military service … he … having been seized and put in chains, when he was fifteen years old, was compelled to take the military oath, then showed himself content with only one servant as his attendant.”

There are various forms of symbolic representation in the scene of Saint Martin’s investiture. We see the one attendant crouched down at Martin’s feet, tying on Martin’s spurs, while the emperor ties on Martin’s sword, together signifying his enrolment in the army. Martin’s head is surrounded by a sun halo, symbolising his holiness; and the emperor’s head wears a laurel wreath, symbol of prowess and victory. On the left, attendants show Martin’s aristocratic status through falconry, and his investiture into the army through a very fierce-looking spiked weapon. On the right, the double-flautist, gittern player and three singers represent the celebratory nature of the event, in ironic contrast to the story that Martin was forced into the army. 

The important question for our purpose of reconstructing the instrument is: do the symbolic elements affect the way the gittern is represented? The answer is no: the gittern is played as an act of celebration, and nothing in the symbolism affects the gittern itself or the way it is shown being played.  

3rd principle: take account of artistic conventions

The previous two articles in this series demonstrated some medieval artistic conventions. As we saw in the second article, one convention was flattened perspective. On a gittern neck, flattened perspective made its sickle-shape peg-box with a decorative carving look as though the peg-box, and sometimes part of the neck, was turned back to face the player, as if the viewer was being given the experience of the player’s vantage point as well as that of onlooker. Another convention was to move the plucking arm down on a fingerboard instrument, to make a part of the instrument visible in art that would be covered in reality. The two examples below illustrate both flattened perspective and the musically impossible but artistically useful ‘arm under’ position, enabling the viewer to see parts of the instrument that would otherwise be hidden.

Left: gittern depicted in a stained glass window of Rouen Cathedral, France, c. 1310.
Right: gittern on a wall of Cathédrale Sainte-Julie-et-Eulalie d’Elne, France, 14th century.
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Simone Martini, painting in 1312–18, prefigured the International Gothic style of painting of c. 1375–c. 1425 that left behind some of the old conventions. The International Gothic style was characterised by an emphasis on setting, i.e. placing figures in detailed and artistically appropriate contexts; a more realistic depiction of perspective (though symbolic size differential was still used); rich colours; and more finely realised, realistic and expressive faces.     

We see all of these emerging International Gothic features in Martini’s depiction. The scene is framed by the building: the edges of walls are left and right, the edge of the ceiling above, as if we are observing the scene through a slice of the building; and the archways vertically segment the three portions of the painting. While there is size distortion in the smallness of the structure that frames the picture, there is no obvious perspective distortion: the gittern neck is not bent back toward the player, no part of the instrument appears oversize, and the right plucking hand is in a realistic position, not in the more typical ‘arm under’ pose, with the result that we cannot see most of the bridge or the tail of the instrument, just as we would not in reality. The rich colours and designs of the musicians’ clothes are clearly evident. Their faces are finely wrought, with shades of flesh tones including redness around the cheeks; lines of concentration on the faces of the flautist and singers; the absorbed narrow eyes of the flautist, and the blank stare of concentration on the face of the gittern player.     

This means that, for the purpose of recreating an instrument, the visual conventions and distortions present in much medieval art need not concern us (though some visual distortion is present, as we will see below in the 9th principle), and Martini’s detailed depiction increases the possibility of a generally realistic portrayal of the instrument. 

4th principle: the medium affects representation

As described in the second article, the nature of stone means that sculpture has limitations: very fine details, such as the thinness of a string, cannot be represented in realistic proportion as the material would all too easily crumble, so strings are shown thicker than in reality and all of the same diameter. The advantage of a carving over a painting is that a sculpture is three-dimensional: the shape of the back of the instrument, and its form viewed from all angles, can often be seen.  

A well-realised two-dimensional painting has the opposite advantage and disadvantage for the historical music researcher: fine details such as string diameter can be more accurately portrayed (if the style of painting allows it and the artist is good); but it is in two dimensions, so the shape and design of the instrument is accessible only from one fixed vantage point. This means we cannot see the back of the gittern. We know the back was rounded, like a half-pear cut top to bottom, because many examples in art show it, Johannes Tinctoris states it in 1481–83 (as we will see below in the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence); and the one surviving gittern is this shape (as we will see below in the 9th principle: consult the evidence of surviving instruments). Because of the way the gittern goes beyond the allotted space on the wall, we cannot see the decorative carving on the end of the peg box, which the evidence shows all gitterns had. 

5th principle: the proficiency of the artist

Simone Martini was clearly a proficient painter, capable of detail, giving specific facial expressions and humanity to his figures. We have no record of any studies he may have undertaken in preparation for the scenes of Saint Martin’s life, and in particular for the gittern in the first scene, but both the rigours of an artistic commission and the internal evidence of the work show that such preparatory studies must have been undertaken and relied upon for the finished work, as we would expect.

That internal evidence for preparatory studies is in two parts. The first is in the comparison of the first scene, the investiture of Saint Martin, and the second, Saint Martin as a soldier leaving the army: as we see below, the portrayal of the emperor’s face in both scenes is virtually identical, which indicates that they came from the same preliminary study.

The emperor in the investiture scene on the left, in the army scene on the right.

The side-on portrayal is very reminiscent of Roman coins. If that was the model, then it reveals that Martini did not use the image of the Emperor Julian the Apostate (r. 361–363 CE), the Caesar in Saint Martin’s story, but that of the previously reigning Constantine the Great (r. 306–337 CE). We cannot know if Simone Martini used a human model for his study, painted sideways on, in conscious imitation of a Roman coin; or if he was a painter of such skill that he could take a coin and flesh out the rest of the details in such a realistic fashion.   

Left: coin showing the image of Julian the Apostate.
Centre and right: coins with the head of Constantine the Great. 

The second part of the evidence for working from studies is that the figure of Saint Martin in the final two scenes, his death and his burial, are virtually identical, as we see below.

The proficiency and reliability of Simone Martini is also seen in the great detail he gives to the portrayal of the gittern. As we see below, Martini shows:

• the intricate marquetry inlaid on the edge of and within the soundboard, and within the fingerboard;
• the clear design of both roses;
• the specific type of plectrum used by the player;
• the double frets, made from a single strand of gut, wound around twice, tied, then pulled apart to create a gap within the single strand of fret gut;
• the four double courses, each a pair of dark red and light red gut strings.

The implications of each of these details are discussed below.

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This is art, not a scaled luthier’s plan for an instrument, so above we see indications that Simone Martini was working by eye, aiming at a credible impression of reality rather than a replication based on exact measurement: the black and white striped marquetry where the soundboard meets the fingerboard is not perfectly vertical, not at a perfect right angle to the top of the neck; on the fingerboard, the vertical black and white inlay line (which forms the left edge of a decorative rectangle) near the top of the neck is not perfectly vertical; and the black, brown and white diamond-shape marquetry just right of the smaller rose is very near the rose, presumably meant to have been halfway between the rose and the perimeter of the soundboard.

6th principle: test representation against practical reality

The intricate marquetry and the rose designs are eminently practical for an instrument maker, and were copied by luthier Paul Baker, as we will see below. This is a more elaborate design than most gitterns in iconography, which are typically plain on the front, other than the decorative rose and the carved figure on the peg box; but designs with inlay are testified in other sources, as we will see in the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony.

For testing representation against practical reality, the neck of the gittern is of particular interest for

i. fret placement
ii. the frets pulled apart
iii. instrument proportion

We should consider the practicality of

iv. the plectrum and plectrum hold

and, for completion, and for ascertaining Simone Martini’s practical knowledge of musical instruments, we will consider

v. the practicality of the double duct flutes.

So to the first of these points.

i. fret placement

In medieval and renaissance art, iconography of fretted instruments typically shows fret placements that do not conform to practical reality (as the second article shows with examples): artists are, after all, artists, not luthiers drawing up a scale plan that can be copied in every accurate measurement. In the case of Martini’s gittern, the position of the 7th fret, one third of the vibrating string length, is a little adrift, and would still be so accounting for a little perspective distortion, as we see below.

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ii. the frets pulled apart

An intriguing detail on the Martini gittern is that each double fret is made from a single strand of gut, wound around twice then knotted, just as we would expect. The knots are visible on the bottom edge of the neck. But then the strands are pulled apart a considerable distance, so much that the gap between the strands could potentially be another note. Indeed, the player’s third finger appears to be playing in the gap between strands of fret gut. It is inconceivable that the artist made this up: it can only have been something Martini observed and replicated in paint. There are two possibilities to explain the practice.

The first explanation for the frets pulled apart needs a little background.

The theoretical basis of medieval tuning was the Pythagorean system, in which note intervals are tuned according to the perfect fifth, a ratio of 3:2, meaning that the upper note of the fifth makes 3 vibrations in the time that the lower note makes 2. Theoretically, in Pythagorean tuning, the octave is 2:1, the fourth 4:3, and the unison 1:1. Practically, this means an instrument is tuned by upper or lower fifths, so D and A are tuned together, D and G, G and C, C and F, F and Bb, A and E, E and B, making the diatonic octave needed for Pythagorean tuning. These natural notes plus Bb are known in medieval music as musica recta or musica vera, meaning right or true music. Altered notes, those made sharp or flat (except Bb), were musica ficta or musica falsa, meaning feigned or false music. Despite the name, musica ficta was used increasingly in sacred and secular music in the late middle ages.

In Pythagorean tuning there are several anomalies which medieval musicians must have found ways of resolving in practice, though precisely how they did so is not recorded.

One anomaly is that when an instrument is tuned by using multiple pure fifths, the final fifth will sound flat by a quarter of a semitone. This requires either an avoidance of that interval, or a modification of all intervals to remove the final ‘bad’ interval (which is how equal temperament works).  

Another anomaly is that the Pythagorean third is very wide and dissonant, yet in medieval England and Scotland there was the gymel, polyphony based around the interval of a third between two voices. (For more explanation of the gymel, click here.) It must therefore have been the case that the third was either modified in England and Scotland or unchanged but perceived differently. Anonymous IV, the designation for an English author in Notre Dame de Paris in the 1270s–80s, states this explicitly: “the major and minor third are not reckoned as [harmonious concords] among some people. Nevertheless among the best composers of organum [polyphonic additions to a melody] and for example in certain lands like England, in the region which is called Westcuntre, they are called the best concords, since among such people they are greatly used.”

A third anomaly in Pythagorean tuning brings us back to the Martini gittern. Modern instruments are made and tuned in equal temperament, i.e. the chromatic octave of 12 notes is divided equally so that the pitch step between every semitone – C C# D Eb E F etc. – is the same. In equal temperament, the semitone between C and D, for example, is C# or Db, which is the same note, named differently depending on the key signature. This is visually obvious on a keyboard, as C#/Db is the same black key between the white keys C and D. In Pythagorean tuning, the gaps between diatonic notes are not equal and, when employing musica ficta, there are differential sharps and flats, not halfway between two natural notes as in equal temperament, but major and minor semitones. In Pythagorean tuning a C#, for example, is nearer to the D above than the C below, a major semitone between C and C#, and a Db is nearer to the C below than the D above, a minor semitone between C and Db.

This means Pythagorean tuning can be replicated exactly on an instrument where every note is played independently, such as an organ with a pipe for every note, or a harp with a string for every note, but not so on a fretted instrument such as a gittern: the placing of the fret dictates not only where one note is pitched, but where four notes are pitched across four courses. A fretted instrument with several courses necessarily requires some compromises to Pythagorean tuning, but unfortunately there is no surviving medieval treatise for the treatment of tuning on a fretted fingerboard instrument. Perhaps that is what we observe in Martini’s painting: a fretted tuning system that, by the pulling apart of fret strands, creates separated versions of the notes of the diatonic scale for fine tuning, and separate frets for b and # notes, for minor and major semitones. I have experimented on a gittern to see if this works in practice, and can report that it is surprisingly easy to choose between the minor and major semitone on a separated double fret.

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Simone Martini painted the life of Saint Martin in 1312–18. For the second possible explanation for the double frets pulled apart, we move forward in time to later instruments with strings that were made deliberately to buzz.

The earliest evidence for a western bray harp was painted in 1367–85 in Cathédrale Saint Julien du Mans, France (right). The pins which anchor the strings in place in the soundboard were made in an upside down L shape and turned so that the strings vibrate against them. This creates a buzzing sound which made the harps louder and gave the impression of a donkey’s bray, hence the terms bray pins and bray harp. The Julien du Mans painting is two to four decades before bray pins on harps became ubiquitous in c. 1400, and before the advent of the Gothic harp, the harp with which bray pins are typically associated, with its tall, sweeping, horn-shape forepillar.

Gothic bray harps, painted by:
left: Gerard David, Virgin and Child with four angels, 1510–15
(The Met Fifth Avenue, New York);
centre: Gherardo Starnina, Two Musician Angels, active in Florence 1387–1413
(Boymans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands);
right: Han Memling, Madonna and Child with angels, after 1479
(National Gallery of Art, Maryland, USA).
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The idea of buzzing strings spread from the harp to other instruments.

The lute began to be fretted in around 1400, the same time that brays began to appear as standard on harps, and the earliest image of a fretted lute I can find – shown below, from 1400 – illustrates it clearly with triple frets, the only purpose of which is to add further to the braying effect created by a low action.

A very early fretted lute – triple fretted – in the anonymous Coronation of the Virgin,
painted in the north transept behind the altar of Saint Michael in Cremona Cathedral, Italy, 1400.
(As with all images, click for a larger view.)

The Capirola lute book, a manuscript written in Venice 1515–20, states that a player should “make it so that the first fret almost touches the strings, and so on to the end, because as the frets are nearer to the string, the strings sound like a harp, and the lute appears better.” In other words, lute strings should buzz against the frets, giving the sound of a bray harp.

Lutenist Bor Zuljan, who has experimented with frets in the light of the Capirola passage to recreate the bray lute, reports that the buzzing bray effect, created with double or triple frets and a low action, is greater the wider the gap between fret strands. Below left we see A concert, a Venetian work from the mid-1520s, with clearly-painted triple frets on a 5 course lute. The triple frets, and the date being nearly contemporaneous with Capirola, indicate that this was a bray lute. Below right we see the same practice of double frets pulled apart as we see on Martini’s Italian gittern in 1312–18, but on a Greek lute in 1548, painted in the Varlaam Monastery, Meteora, Thessaly, which again suggests a bray lute.

In The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted 1495–1505 by Dutch artist Jheronimus Bosch, we see (right) the first unambiguous evidence of the simfony’s drone string, the trompette (trumpet), being given its own little bridge, the chien (dog), which produces a rhythmic percussive buzz, the persistence and rhythm of which depends on the speed and pressure with which the player turns the crank. This is the beginning of what was later called the vielle à rue – wheel fiddle – and then the hurdy gurdy, with its rhythmic buzz putting it in the same soundworld as the bray harp.

German composer and music theorist Sebastian Virdung described a new keyboard in his Musica getutscht, 1511, which is “just like the virginals, except that it has different strings [made with gut rather than the usual wire] and nails which make it harp” or buzz. This is likely to be the arpichordo mentioned by Italian writers of the 16th and early 17th century, a cross between a harpsichord and a bray harp. The Flemish and northern European renaissance keyboard, the muselar, was often equipped with a moveable baton, called a harpichordium or arpichordium, which had the same effect. The baton was fitted with brass hooks which was turned to make contact with the bass strings. Dutch music theorist Quirinus van Blankenburg commented in 1739 that muselars “grunt in the bass like young pigs”.

So we see that the frisson of buzzing strings was popular and widespread from c. 1400, making its first known appearance on a western instrument in 1367–85, and that on a fretted instrument it requires a low action and double or triple frets pulled apart. There is some evidence of this practice on the gittern, in the anonymously painted Virgen de la Humildad of 1480, details above and below, now in the Diocesan Cathedral Museum, Valencia, Spain.

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It is a significant leap in time back from the Virgen de la Humildad gittern of 1480 to the Martini gittern of 1312–18. The explanation of buzzing frets is credible practically, but a leap in the dark historically, for several reasons:

• The Martini gittern of 1312–18 precedes the otherwise known use of buzzing strings on western instruments by significant decades – harps from 1367–85, lutes from 1400.
• Martini is unusual in giving us such fine detail in the early 14th century, so how widespread pulled-apart double frets were is impossible to discern.
• The difference between separated double frets made to buzz and separated double frets for Pythagorean tuning is only the height of the action, i.e. the height of the strings in relation to the fingerboard, and this is impossible to judge from a painting.
• We therefore cannot state with certainty whether the frets of the Martini gittern were pulled apart to effect Pythagorean tuning or to bray, but on balance the former seems more historically likely.

iii. instrument proportion

Upon measuring the ratios in the painting, it is a surprise to see the width of the neck in relation to the rest of the instrument, and in particular in relation to the vibrating string length. The length of the nut across the width of the neck is 14.38% or approximately 3/20ths of the vibrating string length. This neck width is practically credible in that the gittern could be played with these proportions, but it is a much wider neck than we would expect. It creates wider than usual spacing between courses compared with the surviving instrument made by Hans Ott (or Oth) between 1432 and 1463, and wider than the proportions generally depicted in gittern iconography. These aspects will be further examined below under the 9th principle: consult the evidence of surviving instruments, and the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony.    

Finally, the overall size of the gittern can only be established in proportion to the size and dimensions of the player, and this is not an easy or precise task. Do we consider the double flautist to be of average size and the gittern player short, or the gittern player of average size and the double flautist especially tall? We can also judge the size of the gittern player in relation to the singers behind him, but how near as they to the gittern player? And to judge the size of all the musicians in relation to other figures, we have to know the incline of the floor. To answer all of these questions with certainty would assume a precisely-measured realistic portrayal, which is clearly not a given. Since these questions are impossible imponderables, we must make a best guess.

iv. the plectrum and plectrum hold

The method of holding the plectrum shown by Martini is not only practical, it is the most typical hold in medieval and renaissance art: between the forefinger and second finger, held in place by the thumb, as shown below. The plectrum itself is not the most typical – a quill sliced longways, folded in half, making contact with the strings at the fold – but it is widely attested in other medieval and renaissance iconography and described in writing (as we will see below under the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence, and the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony). 

v. the practicality of the double duct flutes

The player’s instruments on the right have been referred to in this article as duct flutes rather than recorders. The recorder is a complex type of flute with an internal duct, a fixed windway formed by a wooden plug or block, distinguished visually from other internal duct flutes by having seven finger holes on top and a single hole at the back for the thumb of the upper hand. In the west, the first recorders appeared in iconography in the second decade of the 14th century, contemporaneous with Martini’s fresco, and the first use of the name, “Recordour”, refers to the playing of the Earl of Derby in 1388, before he became King Henry IV. The type of mouth-blown instrument more simple than a recorder is referred to as a pipe, flageolet or duct flute, and this is what we see here, since there are only five finger holes on each one.

Martini was clearly observant of the characteristics of the instrument, as he includes the unfingered hole at the end, used by the maker to tune the instrument, more typically seen on shawms. Martini has the double duct flautist playing the same notes on both instruments at the moment of depiction, as we see from identical fingering on identically-sized pipes. We would expect a moment like this in early 14th century music, with its equally-pitched voices, its voice crossings, and resolving cadences resting on unisons, fifths or octaves.

Yet there are two mistakes only a non-player would make. The pipes have the typical beak shape for the player’s mouth, but the window or sound hole near the mouthpiece is missing. Since the pipe cannot function without it, this suggests Martini was not a wind player and did not have a working knowledge of how such instruments work. The second mistake is that the top finger hole is open on both pipes. The hands are in an odd place, since they would have to completely change position to reach the top hole; and the covering of the top hole with the finger is critical to the functioning of the whole instrument: in the present position, the piper can only play one note, with slight flattening and sharpening of that note by moving other fingers.

From this we can infer that Simone Martini’s depictions of instruments can be trusted up to a point: he observes the instrument without necessarily understanding it, and some of the critical details may therefore be missing or incorrect. Given the details on the gittern, he seems to have understood that instrument better than the flutes; but the presence of errors only a musician would notice may lead us to conclude that the wideness of the gittern neck does not indicate an unusual instrument, but an error of proportion by Martini. 

(Thank you to Richard Sermon and Paul Baker for their helpful observations on Martini’s duct flutes.) 

7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence

We have written evidence for:

i. the string material
ii. the tuning of the gittern
iii. the specific type of plectrum shown.

i. string material

We have two sources for gittern string material and one for its tuning.

The first source is Jehan (Jean) de Brie, Le Bon Berger (The Good Shepherd), 1379, which survived through 16th century printed abridgements. De Brie wrote that the “fine sinews of [sheep] gut well washed, dried, twisted, scraped, wiped and spun are used for musical instruments: vielles [fiddles], harpes, rothes [rotas, two row harps], luthz, quiternes [gitterns], rebecs, choros [string drums?], almaduries [?], symphonies [also known as the organistrum, predecessor of the hurdy gurdy], cytholes, and other instruments that one makes to give sound by means of the fingers and of strings.”

(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)

The second source is the Berkeley theory manuscript (Library of the University of California, Berkeley, MS. 744), written in Paris before 1361, probably by French priest, Jean (Johannes) Vaillant. This manuscript gives brief background and tunings for several stringed instruments.

On the same page are an illustration of a citole and a gittern, as we see above. The gittern in the manuscript is illustrated but not named, and the citole is called cithara, the Latin name for an ancient lyre, a name which in the ancient world came to be used for stringed instruments generally, a practice medieval authors followed to associate themselves with ancient Rome and Greece.

Both illustrations in the Berkeley manuscript are incomplete. The citole and gittern lack frets, the citole lacks an end projection and the string-holder is the wrong shape, being too short (exactly as in Christ Church Ms. 92, folio 31v, England, 1326–27, right) – but both illustrations give enough information to identify the instruments. The author gives the gittern tuning in relation to citole tuning, this close association confirming that both were string with the same material, as Jehan de Brie stated in 1379. 

ii. tuning

The author of the Berkeley theory manuscript gives the citole tuning as c’’ g’ d’ c’ – or c’ g d c, depending on how large we think the instrument is and the diameter of the strings – and states that “Thebeus the Arab loosened the lower string, adjusting a fourth between it and its neighbour” to arrive at the tuning of the gittern, c’’ g’ d’ a. This gives us what we could call the basic tuning of the gittern. As we will see below, the paired light and dark red strings painted by Martini indicates a gittern tuned entirely in octave courses.

In his De inventione et usu musicae, 1481–83, Flemish music theorist Johannes Tinctoris stated that the gittern was the same “tortoise-like shape” as the lute, “though it [the gittern] is much smaller”, and that the gittern had “the same tuning and method of contact with the strings” as the lute, i.e. they were both tuned in fourths and played with a plectrum. Writing in the late 15th century, Tinctoris wrote of a new tuning for the recently developed 5 and 6 course lute: “an arrangement of five and sometimes six principals was invented by later Germans (as I suppose) with that subtlety, that with the two middle ones tuned to a major third, but the rest to a fourth”. In the second half of the 15th century, iconography shows some 5 course gitterns, too, which presumably followed the pattern of the lute in introducing the ‘new’ interval of the major third between two of the courses, though whether this happened with the introduction of the 5th course or after it is unknown. (For a more detailed discussion on this point of the new tuning for the lute and gittern, see the subheading The renaissance lute in this article on lute history.)

iii. specific type of plectrum

For the string material and tuning, we have near-contemporaneous written sources, just described. The source for the type of plectrum is much later, but still relevant. In Hellenic Folk Musical Instruments, published by the National Bank of Greece in 1976 (translated by Victor Kioulaphides, 2004), Phoebos Anogeianakis clearly describes the plectrum-making method painted by Martini.

“The plectrum of the laouto is made from a feather taken from a predatory bird, usually vulture, eagle, or hawk – when necessary, turkey. But the ones considered best come from vultures because they last longer, they are more flexible, and yield the sweetest sound. The ones from eagles are harder and break more easily. The quill of the vulture’s feather has two sides: the one above is dark in colour, almost black; the one below is white. After they clear off the feathers, they split the black from the white side with a small knife; from each of those two sides, a plectrum is made. Each plectrum is folded in two thus [as we see clearly in Martini’s painting, in which the dark and white sides of the quill are also visible], so that, as the lutenist plays, he strikes the strings, either on the upstroke or on the downstroke, always with the smooth, bone-like side of the quill. The plectrum built from the white side of the quill is considered superior because it is softer, more flexible, and therefore gives the sweetest sound. In olden times, lutenists would use the white pick when they performed for a small audience of few, sensitive revellers, while using the black one for hard, loud playing for hours at village feasts.”

Martini painted a gittern player who followed just this method: we see two tapered black and white ends of the quill, sliced longways and folded to make a plectrum.

8th principle: refer to contemporaneous material evidence

In the case of Martini’s gittern, the relevant contemporaneous material evidence is the surviving Ott gittern and other gittern iconography, covered in the 9th and 10th principles.

9th principle: consult the evidence of surviving instruments

The one surviving gittern, made by Hans Ott (or Oth) in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1432 and 1463, gives us valuable measurements. The following information is from luthier David Van Edwards, who has examined the instrument.

Photograph by David Van Edwards, used with his kind permission. 
(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)

Overall length: 68.5 cm
Maximum width: 22.9 cm
Vibrating string length: 44.1 cm
Tail to front of bridge: 7.65 cm
Tail to nut: 51.6 cm
Length of inner cavity: 36.7 cm

I do not have from David the precise size of the peg box, but the other measurements indicate it must be around 17.5 cm, 1/4 of the total length; nor the length of the nut, which the photograph indicates must be 8.6% or approximately 1/12th of the vibrating string length. These measurements are mapped onto the photograph below.

These dimensions become important in assessing the Martini painting for realistic proportions. To test realism, above we see a comparison between the Oth and Martini measurements, on the theoretical basis that the overall size of both gitterns is the same. Since the end of the peg box is missing in the Martini painting, the approximate end of it has to be assumed, based on the size of pegs and the amount of peg box needed to complete the picture. We find that the peg box is around a quarter of the total length, as on the Ott instrument.

Other measurements are similarly comparable, actual Ott gittern to Martini depiction, as follows.

Tail to nut is 51.6 cm on Ott, a virtually identical 51.4 cm on Martini.
Maximum width is 22.9 cm on Ott, a slightly wider 25 cm on Martini.
The distance from the tail to the front of the bridge is 7.65 cm on Ott, a significantly shorter 4.96 cm on Martini. This is within the boundaries of expected variation: some iconography shows the gittern bridge closer to the tail, as with Martini, and the same is true of lutes.
The difference in bridge position creates a difference in the vibrating string length: on Ott it is 44.1 cm, compared to a slightly longer 46.6 cm on Martini.   

There is one major difference between the dimensions of Ott and Martini: the width of the fingerboard. Since fingerboards typically fan out slightly as they reach the body, we take the comparative dimension from the narrowest part of the neck at the nut, the piece of wood or bone which secures the strings in place. On the Ott gittern, the length of the nut is 8.6% or approximately 1/12th of the vibrating string length; whereas on the Martini gittern the nut is considerably longer and the fingerboard therefore significantly wider at 14.38% or approximately 3/20ths of the vibrating string length.  

It is not possible to state with certainty that Martini, who painted proportions similar to the Ott gittern except for the width of the fingerboard, got the fingerboard proportion wrong; nor is it possible to state with certainty that all gittern proportions should follow Ott; but a comparative survey of gittern iconography makes this the most likely conclusion, and this conclusion confirms previously stated observations that, like all medieval and renaissance painters, Martini painted some details with great precision while painting other features inaccurately, as we have seen above with the flutes’ lack of window and impossible hand positions. The true width of the Martini neck will be explored one final time under the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony

One aspect of the gittern not available in almost all iconography is the back of the instrument. The Ott gittern, as we see below, has a carved spine running down the centre of the bowl.

Photograph by David Van Edwards, used with his kind permission.

Since gitterns had a wide variety of decoration on the front – an assortment of rose designs and bridges, with or without inlay on the soundboard – there is no reason to believe all gitterns had the same design on the back. But even when the instrument is carved in three dimensions, as we see in Cathédrale Saint-Jean, below left, the details of the carved bowl on the back are unavailable. I know of only one depiction of the back, in Gentile da Fabriano’s Polittico di Valle Romita, c. 1410–12, and it is, unsurprisingly, of a different design to Ott.

Left: gittern carved in Cathédrale Saint-Jean, Lyon, France, before 1480.
Right: the back of a gittern in Polittico di Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1410–12
(now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan).

10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony

The cumulative weight of testimony adds credence to:

i. the decoration on the soundboard of the Martini gittern
ii. the rose design
iii. the type of plectrum used.

Cumulative testimony is also important for addressing three questions which require answers for the reconstruction of the Martini gittern:

iv. What is the true width of the neck?
v. Are the strings attached to hitch pins or to the bridge?
vi. What is the nature and purpose of paired strings in two shades of red?

(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)

i. the decoration on the soundboard

Most ouds, gitterns and lutes are shown with a soundboard that is plain except for the decorative carved rose, but iconography shows a significant minority of ouds, gitterns and lutes had colourful inlay similar to that painted by Martini, as we see from the examples below.

Oud with soundboard decoration in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, 1257–83
(Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid,
RBME Cat b-I-2, folio 162r), played next to a rubeba/rebab.
Lute in the Mestre de Santa Coloma de Queralt’s Altarpiece of the Saints John, 1356
(Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona).
Gittern and lute in the Monasterio de Piedra Triptych, Spain, c. 1390.
Lute in Andrea di Bartolo, Coronation of the Virgin, 1405–07
(Galleria Franchetti, Ca’ d’Oro, Venice, Italy).
Gittern and lute in the anonymous Virgen de la humildad, 1480
(Diocesan Cathedral Museum, Valencia, Spain).
Lute in a painting by the Master of Evora, Coronation of the Virgin, 1490–1500
(Museu de Évora, Portugal).

ii. the rose design

How does the rose design painted by Martini compare with other gitterns? This isn’t always easy to answer. As explained in detail in the second article under the 4th principle: the medium affects representation, the size of an image affects what can be shown and in how much detail, and this is particularly true of manuscripts. Consequently, a very small image of a gittern on a page cannot be expected to give us a detailed example of a rose design. We see this below: the gittern in a Book of Hours from Paris, France, c. 1418 (Morgan Library & Museum, New York, MS M.919, folio 35v), shows an instrument that is painted only 1.42 centimetres in length. The rose is mostly obscured by the hand, but if this were not the case, the rose design could hardly be depicted with a diameter of only 2.7 millimetres.

(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)

Not only does the medium affect representation (4th principle), the depiction of a complex reality can be obscured by a simplifying artistic convention (3rd principle) or by the limited proficiency of the artist (5th principle). Thus the problem of missing or simplified details isn’t limited to the small scale, as we see below: a stained glass window in Saint Mary Magdalene Church, Newark, Nottingham, c. 1450, shows a gittern without its frets and with a rose pared down to its most basic outline.

In the second article under the 5th principle: the proficiency of the artist, we saw with the example of Hans Memling that an artist may paint some aspects of a composition in fine, exquisite and realistic detail, while other features of the same work can be sketchy or clearly erroneous. Sometimes those sketchy details in an otherwise detailed work are still a result of scale if the instrument is a small detail in a much larger composition.

Below is a detail from the central panel of Jacopo di Cione’s San Pier Maggiore Altarpiece, Florence, 1370–71: the angels’ halos and ornate clothing are shown in delicate detail, whereas the rose of the gittern (and the gittern generally) appears to have been painted roughly and in a rush as a less significant element of the composition.

Knowledge of the dimensions of the altarpiece may be instructive. The central panel is a very large 206.5 cm x 113.5 cm. As we see below, the gittern player is in the central panel, bottom, centre left, among other musicians, eight seated or on their knees, smaller than the figures on the left and right panels, and symbolically diminutive compared to the centrally significant figures of Christ crowning Mary. This means that, despite the large scale of the work, the gittern was painted at a length of 14.4 cm, giving the rose a diameter of only 1.3 cm. While this is small, it is certainly not too small to have been painted in more detail and with more care, and the contrast between the attention given the angelic gittern player’s halo and clothing compared with her instrument is striking. Jacopo di Cione, it seems, was making choices about what he wanted to spend his time on, and the gittern was not a priority.

All three panels of Jacopo di Cione’s San Pier Maggiore Altarpiece, Florence, 1370–71
(National Gallery, London). The gittern player is in the central panel, bottom, centre left.

Photograph by Sailko, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.   

It is notable that what we do see of the rose appears to be similar to that painted by Martini: a larger and smaller rose, both with quite open designs, i.e. with significant open space rather than closely carved, within an overall design that includes marquetry on the soundboard and fingerboard.   

The gittern painted by Master Juan Oliver in Cathédrale de Pampelune (Pamplona Cathedral), Spain, 1330, also makes an interesting comparison with the Martini instrument. Juan Oliver’s gittern is shown below left, with a detail of the rose top right and, for comparison, Martini’s rose is bottom right. The rose of the Oliver gittern may be an artist’s simplification – certainly, later gittern roses are shown with far more complexity – yet its similarity with the Martini rose is striking, and the realism of the latter is not in doubt.

In general, painting of the later 14th and into the 15th century yields more detail, and in this period we begin to see depictions of more complex gittern roses, such as in Pere Serra’s altarpiece, Virgin of the Angels, c. 1385 (National Museum of Art of Cataluña) …

… Agnolo Gaddi’s Coronation of the Virgin with six angels, Florence, c. 1390 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) …

… and there are three examples of more closed and complex roses together in a painting by the Master of the Lyversberger Passion, Coronation of Mary with donors, Germany, 1460–90 (Alte Pinakothek, Munich).

The one actual gittern rose we have (9th principle: consult the evidence of surviving instruments) is from an instrument made by Hans Ott, a luthier who worked in Nuremburg from 1432 to 1463. As we see below, this rose is made from delicately-cut layers of parchment, rather than carved into the wood of the soundboard. The other roses seen so far appear to have been carved in wood.

There are examples of late 15th and early 16th century lutes in art which show parchment roses, as we probably see in the Master of the Saint John Altarpiece, The dance of Salome, Bern, Switzerland, c. 1495–1500 (National Museum of Budapest, Hungary); …

… and we certainly see on a lute in The Marriage at Cana by Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, c. 1530–32 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

The cumulative weight of testimony for late medieval gittern roses points in several directions, with a wide range of rose designs. The evidence from art appears to suggest that roses became more complex over time, though this may partly be an effect of more detailed art being in vogue in the International Gothic style of painting of c. 1375–c. 1425 and beyond. Parchment roses for gitterns and lutes were a feature on some instruments of the second half of the 15th and into the 16th century, though they were not a standard feature (as they would later be on baroque guitars). Both the Martini gittern’s large and small roses and their relatively open design are attested on other contemporaneous gitterns.

iii. the type of plectrum used

Gittern and lute plectrums in the anonymous Virgen de la humildad, 1480
(Diocesan Cathedral Museum, Valencia, Spain).

As described above under the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence, the plectrum painted by Martini is a quill sliced longways and folded in half, making contact with the strings at the fold. (For much more on medieval plectrums, click here.) It is not the most typical plectrum seen in art, but it is widely attested in medieval and renaissance iconography. We see it above used for gittern and lute in Virgen de la humildad, 1480, and in further examples below.

Sliced and folded quill plectrum used by a gittern player in the Basilica of San Nicola, Tolentino, Italy, 1300–25 (another example of beautiful soundboard decoration); … 

… by lute, psaltery and gittern players in Pere Serra’s altarpiece, Virgin of the Angels, Catalonia, c. 1385 (National Art Museum of Catalonia); …

… by a lute player painted by Paolo di Sant Leocadio and Francesco Pagano in 1472 in the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia, Spain; …

… and by a cetra player in Girolamo di Benvenuto’s Assumption of the Virgin, painted in 1498 (Museo Diocesano, Montalcino, Italy).  

iv. What is the true width of the neck?

As we have seen in the 9th principle: consult the evidence of surviving instruments, Simone Martini painted a neck that is unusually wide when compared to the surviving Ott gittern and when compared to the cumulative testimony of gittern iconography generally, as we see from two representative examples. Above is the gittern painted by Juan Oliver in 1330 in Pampelune Cathedral, Spain, and below is one of the instruments painted by the Master of the Lyversberger Passion, Germany, 1460–90 (which is painted left-handed, not reversed here). The Ott gittern has a nut length of 8.6% or approximately 1/12th of the vibrating string length, which is remarkably close what we see in paintings: the Juan Oliver gittern is painted with a nut length of 9.96% or approximately 1/10th of the vibrating string length; and the Lyversberger Passion gittern is depicted with a nut length of 8.4% or approximately 1/12th of the vibrating string length. This means the neck width of the Lyversberger Passion gittern is exactly that of the extant Ott gittern (or within the tiniest margin), and the Juan Oliver gittern is within a reasonable margin for both artistic depictions and possible variations on actual instruments. Given that some features of people and objects are exaggerated or reduced in size for effect in medieval art (as described in the second article), this is a remarkable concordance.     

By comparison, the nut length on the Martini gittern –  and therefore the neck width at its narrowest point – is 14% or approximately 3/20ths of the vibrating string length. Compared to the above examples, the Martini neck is proportionally 41% wider than Juan Oliver’s painting, and 67% wider than the Lyversberger painting and the surviving Ott gittern. As stated above, it is not impossible that the Martini gittern is unusual and possibly unique in its much wider neck, but the more probable explanation is that Martini painted the neck wider than reality. This may have been an error on his part or a deliberate artistic act to emphasise to the viewer the pulled-apart double frets and fingerboard decoration. Whichever is the case, this combined data confirms the conclusion reached above under the 5th principle: the proficiency of the artist: that Simone Martini was working by eye, aiming at a credible impression of reality rather than replication based on exact measurement.

v. Are the strings attached to hitch pins or the bridge?

On the Martini gittern, the method of anchoring the strings is obscured by the plucking hand, as we see above. Iconography shows that, on the vast majority of gitterns, the strings pass across the bridge, tied to hitch pins on the tail, as we see in the four representative iconographic examples below …  

Left: Apostles’ Door, Valencia Cathedral, Spain, 14th century.
Right: from The Ethics Of Aristotle, translated from Latin to French by Nicole Oresme in 1376.
Left: stained glass in Rouen Cathedral, c. 1310.
Right: the quire vault of Gloucester Cathedral, 1337–50. Photograph © Ian Pittaway.

… and as we see on the surviving Ott gittern.

Hitch pins on the tail of the Hans Ott gittern, made between 1432 and 1463.
Photographs by David Van Edwards, to whom thanks.  

Iconography shows that a tiny minority of gitterns had the strings attached to bridges glued to the soundboard, as on lutes. Three examples of such gitterns are below. 

Left: Firenze (Florence) Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Banco rari 38, 1270–1338
(lute above, gittern below).
Centre: Monasterio de Piedra triptych, Spain, c. 1390
Right: Pala di San Marco (Triptych of Saint Mark), Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice,
painted by Bartolomeo Vivarin, 1474.

While we cannot know from Martini’s painting which string anchoring method was used, the cumulative weight of testimony is overwhelmingly in favour of hitch pins. 

vi. What is the nature and purpose of paired strings in two shades of red?

As described above in the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence, the strings of the gittern were made from gut, the small intestines of sheep, which after processing are off-white, yellowish, or light brown. As we see above, from the onlooker’s viewpoint, Martini painted each double course the same thickness, but a lighter red above paired with a darker brownish-red below.

This raises two questions. Why would the strings be red? Why are they paired in lighter and darker shades of red?

Before addressing those questions, it should be noted that in medieval iconography gut strings are generally shown as a realistic whitish-yellow or brown, or as darker-than-real lines to make them stand out against the instrument. In a significant minority of cases, artists depicted gut strings that are decidedly red, as we see from the examples below, shown in chronological order. If there were fewer instances of red strings it would be easy to dismiss them as errors, or as artistic licence, or we could surmise that red just happened to be the colour the artist had at hand, but such speculation and dismissal of an artist’s craft does not stand up to scrutiny. Gut strings are always shown red when they are not whitish-yellow or brown, or black to stand out, and there are no instances in medieval images of random colours an artist may have been using at the time – no green, blue or purple strings.  

Three lyres with red strings.
Left: The Egbert Psalter (also known as The Gertrude Psalter or Trier Psalter), page 38, made in the
Abbey of Reichenau, Germany, c. 980 (now in the municipal museum of Cividale, Italy, Ms. CXXXVI).
Centre: The Worms Bible, folio 3v, Middle Rhineland, Germany, 1150–75
(British Library, Harley 2804).
Right: Ms. 64 (97.MG.21), folio 12r, Hildesheim, Germany c. 1170s
(J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).
(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)
Three harps with red strings.
Left: Hildegard of Bingen, Liber divinorum operum (The Book of Divine Works), folio 132r.
The work was by completed by Hildegard in 1174, this copy dated 1210–20
(Lucca Biblioteca statale, Italy, Codex Latinus 1942).
Centre: Canterbury Psalter, Anglo-Catalan, folio 75r, decorated from 1200
(Bibliothèque nationale de France, Latin 8846).
Right: Westminster Psalter, folio 14v, made in London c. 1200 (British Library, MS Royal 2 A XXII).
Three harps with red strings.
Left: MS M.43, folio 27v, made in Oxford, England, 1212–20
(Morgan Library & Museum, New York).
Centre: Antiphonal, p. 115, Cambrai or Tournai, France, c. 1260–70
(J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 44, Ludwig VI 5).
Right: Biblia Porta, folio 80r, Franco-Flemish, end of the 13th century
(Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire, Lausanne, U 964).
Three harps with red strings.
Left: Antiphonal used by the Abbey of Marchiennes, France, c. 1290
(Bibliothèque municipale, Douai, ms. 0119).
Centre: Breviary of Renaud de Bar (or of Marguerite de Bar), bas-de-page on folio 7r,
France, 1302–03 (British Library, Yates Thompson 8).  
Right: Breviary of Renaud de Bar (or of Marguerite de Bar), illuminated letter on folio 7r,
France, 1302–03 (British Library, Yates Thompson 8). 
Three harps with red strings from The Maastricht Hours, Netherlands, 1300–26
(British Library, Stowe MS 17).
Left: folio 46r. Centre: folio 61v. Right: folio 173v.
Three instruments with red strings from folio 14r of The Peterborough Psalter, 1300–18
(KBR – Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels, Ms. 9961–62).
Left: harp. Centre: fiddle. Right: citole.
Two harps and a psaltery with red strings.
Left: Codex Manesse or The Great Heidelberg Book of Songs, folio 412r, created in Zurich,
Switzerland, 1300–40 (Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Germany, Cod. Pal. germ. 848).
Centre: Luttrell Psalter, folio 149r, Lincolnshire, England, 1325–40 (British Library, Add MS 42130).  
Right: Howard Psalter, Anglo-Norman, folio 55v, c. 1308–c. 1340 (British Library, Arundel MS 83 I).

The image of the psaltery with red strings above centre is included here for completion, but must be placed in a different category to all the other iconography of red strings. The psaltery had strings of brass and all other instruments shown had strings of gut. The most obvious explanation is that this psaltery was strung with red brass.

Rudolf von Ems (c. 1200–54), Austrian epic poet, Weltchronik (Chronicle of the World), folio 218v,
this manuscript 1340s (Ms. Rh. 15, Zentralbibliothek Zürich, Switzerland).
This image is included under the Creative Commons license CC BY-SA.
The whole manuscript can be viewed here.

The artwork above from Weltchronik (Chronicle of the World) by Rudolf von Ems (c. 1200–54) shows King David playing harp, with his scribe top right and his musicians. On the top, next to David, we see a vielle (fiddle), below from left to right we see another vielle, an organistrum (simfony, symphony, simfonia), a psaltery and a lyre. It is notable that only the harp and lyre have red strings, the instruments most typically shown with red strings in iconography, while the vielles, organistrum and psaltery are shown with black strings so they stand out against the instrument. 

The Warwick Psalter-Hours, folio 170v, 1430s (Morgan Library & Museum, New York, MS. M.893).

Again, in The Warwick Psalter-Hours, 1430s, above we see King David playing harp with his musicians: David’s harp has red strings, the lute on the left is shown with dark strings, with two trumpeters either side, a shawm player and a portative organist.

Left: King David holds a red-stringed harp in The Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg,
Duchess of Normandy, folio 15r, made in Paris, France, before 1349 (The Met Cloisters, New York).
Right: A harp with red strings on folio 1v of a 15th century copy of the comedies of
African Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer, c. 195/185 BCE–c. 159 BCE
(Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Ms-664 réserve).

There can be no doubt, then, that red gut strings were a real medieval phenomenon, principally on lyres and harps, but also on some fiddles, citoles, and on the Martini gittern.

We return to the two key questions.
Why would the strings be red when gut strings are not naturally this colour?
On the Martini gittern, why are they paired in lighter and darker shades of red?

To answer these questions, we must address not only the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony, as we have above, to show that red strings were widespread, though not typical; we must also return to the 6th principle: test representation against practical reality, which requires the knowledge of a string-maker, to whom we will soon turn; and the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence. On the last principle, I am not aware of any medieval literature that addresses string colour, but 17th century literature and 18th century paintings are instructive for what potentially came before, so we must take a necessary diversion before returning to the red strings of the Martini gittern.  

The first written source is John Dowland, Other Necessary Observations belonging to the lute, in his son Robert’s lute music collection of 1610, Varietie of Lute Lessons. John Dowland discusses how a lute player can tell a good string from bad by its colour: “Now because Trebles are the principall strings we neede to get, choose them of a faire and cleere whitish gray, or ash-colour”. He writes that some strings are dyed, and to them the same principle applies, to choose the lighter, clearer strings: “Some string there are which are coloured, out of which choose the lightest colours, viz. among Green choose the Sea-water, of Red the Carnation, and of Blue the Watchet.”

Dyed strings of the colours described by Dowland are seen in paintings of the period, and considerably later. We see such, for example, in two works by the 18th century German painter, Anna Rosina de Gasc. In Allegory of hearing (below), we see a swan-neck 12 course lute, entirely double strung. Of the unison courses, the 1st course is green and the 2nd to 6th courses are Dowland’s natural “whitish gray”. The 7th to 12th courses are in octaves: the 7th course is red at the higher octave, a thicker string of natural gut at the lower octave; the 8th and 9th courses are green at the upper octave, red on the lower octave; and the 10th, 11th and 12th courses are red at the upper octave, green on the lower octave.

Anna Rosina de Gasc (1713–83), Portrait of a noble lady with lute (privately owned). 
(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)  

Compare this with another of Anna Rosina de Gasc’s paintings, Portrait of a noble lady with lute (below). We have another 12 course lute, without a swan neck and with the first two courses single. Courses 1 and 2 are green; 3 paired green and red; 4 paired green and natural gut; 5 natural; 6 and 7 paired green and natural; 8 and 9 paired red and natural; 10, 11 and 12 paired red and black.

Anna Rosina de Gasc (1713–83), Portrait of a noble lady with lute (privately owned). 

Dying a string will not change its properties, so there can only have been two reasons for a player to choose coloured strings or for a manufacturer to change the colour of its strings: to help with visual placement while playing; or as a form of advertising by string manufacturers.  

On the first reason for dying strings, to help with visual placement while playing, we may draw an analogy with the harp. Since the early 19th century, as described by Charles Egan in The Harp Primer, 1829, it has been standard on a gut-strung harp to use strings dyed red for the C strings and dyed black or blue for the F strings, others remaining a natural gut colour. If the above paintings, and others like them, illustrate a way of maintaining visual placement, it must have been an entirely individual system chosen by the player, as no two lutes are alike in the colour sequence. 

On the second reason for dying strings, as a form of advertising by string manufacturers, we must first understand the difference between the most common way of buying instrument strings now and what we read described by John Dowland in 1610. Today, strings for an individual instrument – guitar, mandolin, ukulele, violin, viola, cello, etc. – tend to be bought from the same maker, either as a set or as single strings of different gauges that make up a set. The exception today is the player buying strings for a historical instrument. Lute players, for example, may prefer one string type from one manufacturer for the treble strings, except the chanterelle from a different maker, and the thicker basses from a third maker.

In 1610, John Dowland told his readers that the best quality gut strings of different pitches and thicknesses should be bought not only from different manufacturers but from different parts of the world: “the one sort of smaller strings (which come from Rome and other parts of Italy) … the other sort … come out of Germany: of these, those strings which come from Monnekin and Mildorpe, are … the best. Likewise there is a kinde of strings of a more fuller and larger sort then ordinary (which we call Gansars). These strings for the sizes of the great and small Meanes, are very good, but the Trebles are not strong. Yet also there is another sort of the smaller strings, which are made at Livornio in Tuscanie … For the greater sort of Base strings, some are made at Nurenburge, and also at Straesburge … The best strings of this kind are … made at Bologna in Lumbardie, and from thence are sent to Venice, from whence they are transported to the Martes, and therefore commonly called Venice Catlines.”

Our second written source, Thomas Mace, Musick’s Monument, 1676, makes similar observations. In Chap. VI. of The Second Part. The LUTE made Easie, Mace wrote: “The first and Chief Thing is, to be carefull to get Good Strings, which could be of three sorts, viz. Minikins, Venice-Catlins, and Lyons, (for Basses : ) There is another sort of String, which they call Pistoy Basses, which I conceive are one other than Thick Vencie-Catlins, which are commonly Dyed, with a deep dark red colour. They are indeed the very Best, for the Basses, being Smooth and well-twisted Strings, but are hard to come by … There are several Sorts of Coloured Strings, very Good; But the Best (to my observation) was always the clear Blue; the Red, commonly Rotten; sometimes Green, very Good.”

Thomas Mace’s description of strings in different colours leads to the possibility that dying the string was a marketing strategy, to make a particular brand of string visually stand out. In the modern age, Mimmo Peruffo, the founder of Aquila, manufacturer of strings for historical instruments, did this with nylgut, nylon strings treated to feel, sound and play like gut. When they were first on the market, they didn’t look like gut (as they do more so now), but were bright white so that no one seeing an instrument strung with nylgut could mistake the strings for anything else.

The possibility of makers marketing strings by colour to make them stand out against the competition may make sense of the colour sequence in Anna Rosina de Gasc’s Portrait of a noble lady with lute above, considering Dowland’s and Mace’s description of differently-pitched strings sourced from different places: all the green strings are higher pitches, all the red strings octaves at intermediate pitches, and all the black strings at the lowest pitches. However, the string colours in de Gasc’s Allegory of hearing defy such logical sequencing, as do the red strings in Peter Paul Rubens’ portrait of a lutenist (below): it would make sense for the thinnest 1st and 2nd courses to be red if the player preferred a maker whose thinnest strings were dyed that colour, but that makes it difficult to explain why only the lowest string of the 7th course is also red.

The lute player by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, 1610
(Musée des Beaux-Arts et D’Archéologie, France).

And what are we make of a lute painted in the 1670s on which at least 7 of the 19 strings are red (perhaps more, as some strings are difficult are discern)?

A lady tuning a luth theorbé by Dutch painter Eglon van der Neer, 1670s (privately owned). 

We are observing more than one phenomenon: not only dyed strings of blue, red, green and black, but also strings loaded to make them more dense. We see this in the anonymous French Portrait of a lutenist, c. 1650s (below). While the pattern of string colours in some cases is difficult to make sense of, in this case it is simple: the red strings are only on the low octaves of the lowest 6 courses; they do not have the substantial circumference one would expect of a gut string at this low pitch; and they must therefore be loaded strings. It is appears that these are the “Pistoy Basses“ described by Thomas Mace, that “are commonly Dyed, with a deep dark red colour”.

Anonymous French, Portrait of a lutenist, c. 1650s (Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany).

The loading of strings is part of the manufacturing process that increases the string’s density, which means a string can decrease its thickness while reaching the same low note. The idea of loaded strings is confirmed by the evidence of string holes in the bridges of surviving lutes, holes which are not large enough for thick bass strings made only of gut. Mimmo Peruffo (1994) observes that “Red bass strings, starting from the 6th course down, of apparently reduced diameters, suggest a use of colour which is not aesthetic, but simply a consequence of loading process, obtained perhaps with cinnabar, a heavy red mercury sulphide, which was an abundant raw material in some areas of central Italy, the same, in fact, where such a commercial type of bass strings were manufactured: the “pistoys”.” In this case, the pistoys which Thomas Mace stated were “Dyed, with a deep dark red colour”, were not necessarily coloured by vegetable dye, but dyed by loading with red mercury. The history of the use of cinnabar goes back in Europe to ancient Rome in the 8th century BCE, in Mesoamerica since the Olmec period which began 1500 BCE, and in China since the Zhou dynasty from 1046 BCE, so the use of cinnabar in baroque, renaissance and medieval gut strings is well within the bounds of possibility. Mimmo Peruffo (2018) further states that a string may be loaded with cinnabar or some other substance to a considerable degree without necessarily changing the colour, that “the denser, insoluble substances widely in use in the 16th and 17th centuries … (mineral pigments such as oxides, sulphides, copper powder etc.), are of colours ranging exactly from deep red, all the gradations of brown, dark grey and finally blackish: the same colours we have found on the bass lute strings in old paintings or in written descriptions and lute treatises”, and that dye may have been added to a loaded string to indicate the substance with which it had been made more dense. 

We have come a long way from the red strings of the Simone Martini gittern, but this detour was necessary to arrive back at this point.

We cannot tell from medieval iconography whether red strings are dyed, perhaps the trademark of a maker, or loaded for a deeper pitch. Martini’s painting is different. As we see below, each of the four courses is a light red string paired with a dark red string of the same diameter, which suggests a less dense string paired with a more dense string, i.e. it is tuned in octaves.

In the 15th and 16th century, writers testified to octave stringing when describing the lute.

“in order that it [the lute] should have a louder sound, to each of these [lower] strings one [string] is conjoined that is tuned to the octave with it.”
Johannes Tinctoris, De inventione et usu musicae (The invention and use of music), c. 1481–87

“to all three basses [of the 6 course lute] are added strings of medium thickness … one octave higher. Why that? Because the thick strings cannot be heard so loud in the distance as the thinner ones. Therefore, octaves are added, so that they be heard like the others”.
Sebastian Virdung, Musica Getutsch, 1511

“God knows how well one can hear them [low-sounding strings on a lute] … they are perceived by the ear as not very sweet, because of their poor sound.”
Vincenzo Galilei, Fronimo, 1568

The difference is that the lute had upper octaves added to brighten the 4th, 5th and 6th courses, whereas for a gittern tuned c’’ g’ d’ a this is impossible, so we see lower darker red octaves added to the fundamental tuning on every course. This suggests sonically that the purpose was different: not to brighten dull basses, as on the lute, but to add depth to the gittern’s brightness. Practically, the equal diameter of lighter and darker strings suggests that the darker red strings were loaded with cinnabar.

Gut-string players in the 17th century enjoyed significant advances in bass string technology compared to players of previous eras: the complaints of writers about dull bass strings, such as we see in Tinctoris, Virdung and Galilei, did not continue in the 17th century. This leads to the question: what caused the improvement in the sound of lower-pitched gut strings in the 17th century? Judging from Martini’s painting, the improvement appears not to have been the introduction of loaded strings, but some development in string manufacture which improved their sonic performance.  

There is much we don’t know about the historical development of string manufacture, but for our purpose, octave stringing and gut string loading seems the obvious conclusion to draw from Martini’s depiction of the gittern in his fresco.  

The result

Simone Martini’s painting of a gittern is above; the instrument that resulted from the 10 principles in this article is below. We see that the design and decoration of the new instrument is the same as that painted by Martini. Some gaps have been filled in, since in the painting we cannot see the design on the back of the bowl, or the bridge and tail, nor the decorative carving on the peg box, typically an animal head. These gap-fillers are described below.

Gittern and photograph by Paul Baker.

The decoration on the gittern is made through marquetry, a method of creating a design through different coloured wood pieces, inlaid on the soundboard. Paul Baker’s method of recreating the design is shown below.

Gittern and photographs by Paul Baker.
Gittern and photographs by Paul Baker.

Five practical details are notable on Martini’s gittern: the rose design; the stringing; the question of tuning; the pulled apart double frets; and the plectrum. On the 1st principle: open enquiry, in the exploration above and the description below I have tried to make clear where I think the evidence is unequivocal, and where conclusions must be left open as the evidence can be read more than one way.

As described above under the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony, the double rose, one larger, the other smaller, and the relatively open design is attested in other contemporaneous iconography, and it appears to be the case that more closed and complex roses appeared later in the century.

The double stringing of the gittern was standard, though not universal: iconography shows some single-strung gitterns, and a few with one or more triple-strung course. The Martini gittern is, as far as I know, the only evidence for double-stringing in octaves, clearly showing paired lighter and darker strings, i.e. less and more dense. This raises a series of questions. Was stringing in octaves common to all double (and triple) strung gitterns, or just some internationally, or only in Italy, or only in a region of Italy, or just this one? Unfortunately, the evidence is lacking with which to answer these questions.

As described above in the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence, the string material is gut, and the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony, discusses the ample evidence for red strings, and that the different shades of red on each course indicates differential loading for octave stringing. The tuning is therefore be c’’ g’ d’ a (as described in the Berkeley theory manuscript of 1361 – see above under the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence), paired with strings an octave below, c’ g d A. The effect of constant parallel octaves can be heard in the video below.

Click the picture to play the video.

Initially I used standard gut-coloured off-white strings (as we see in some of the photographs above and below), which meant that the lower octaves were rather thick under the fingers, creating some plectrum drag while playing, especially on the lowest course. I changed the lower octave of each course for CD strings, a synthetic imitation of loaded gut made by Mimmo Peruffo’s string company, Aquila. CD strings are thinner as a result of being loaded, just as as we see evidenced for low-pitched strings in baroque lute iconography generally and in Martini’s medieval gittern painting in particular, and they are dyed red in imitation of being loaded with cinnabar (as seen and described above under the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony). Rather than have paired red and white strings, for consistency and in imitation of Martini’s gittern, I replaced the higher octaves with Bow Brand gut harp strings varnished red. As a consequence, the drag on the plectrum against the strings was completely gone, and the fingers can fly faster with strings far less weighty under them. We see the result below and in the video above.

The pulled-apart double frets are discussed above under the 6th principle: test representation against practical reality, concluding that the reason could be to achieve the differential semitones of Pythagorean tuning, or to create a buzz on the frets as on the later bray harp, bray lute and bray gittern, but data is lacking to know which. Since we lack any evidence of the medieval compromises needed to create Pythagorean tuning on a fretted instrument, compromises which are still necessary with pulled-apart double frets to create differential semitones, and the date of Martini’s painting, 1312–18, is rather early for a braying instrument, I opted to have double frets but remaining together, until such a time as new evidence appears for either the Pythagorean or braying option.  

The plectrum and plectrum hold are discussed above under the 6th principle: test representation against practical reality, and the 7th principle: refer to contemporaneous written evidence. Split and folded quill plectrums – as painted by Martini – must have worked, but I have yet to make it work myself. Far more successful for me has been the historically attested folded string plectrum, which I use generally for medieval gittern and lute.   

On the gittern made for me by Paul Baker, there are three deviations in design from the instrument Martini painted.

The first is that in the painting the diamond-shaped inlay between the smaller rose and the fingerboard encroaches a little on the rose. This seems to be a clear spacing error by Martini, so this has been corrected in the design of the copied instrument, as shown below.

The second is that the fingerboard width has been narrowed compared to the painting, due to the cumulative weight of testimony about proportion, explained in detail above under the 6th principle: test representation against practical reality, the 9th principle: consult the evidence of surviving instruments, and the 10th principle: the cumulative weight of testimony.

Both these changes were made on the basis of historical accuracy. The third change was made on the basis of personal taste: the hammerhead pegs painted by Martini, commonly seen on medieval gitterns and lutes, look less elegant to me than other peg designs shown in medieval iconography, so I opted for another historically attested peg design, shown below.

The design used for the pegs on my Martini gittern is similar to that shown on the gittern in The Deposition of Saint Nicola, a fresco by The Master of Tolentino in Cappellone di San Nicola, Basilica di San Nicola da Tolentino, Tolentino, Italy, 1400, detail above left; and on the gitterns painted by the Master of the Lyversberger Passion, Germany, 1460–90, detail above right.

A similar peg design, but without the heart-shaped dip at the top of the peg, is seen on the surviving gittern by Hans Ott, made in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1432 and 1463, above left; and on the gittern anonymously painted in Virgen de la humildad, Diocesan Cathedral Museum, Valencia, Spain, 1480, above right.

And so to the details we cannot see from Martini’s painting: the back of the bowl; the tail and bridge; and the decorative carving on the peg box. The design on the back of the bowl is unseen because the gittern in the painting directly faces the viewer; the tail and bridge is hidden because Martini did not use the stylised and unrealistic ‘arm under’ position that shows these details, but depicted the playing position realistically in which the plucking arm covers these details; and the decorative carving on the peg box, typically an animal head, is just beyond the edge of the painting.

As described above, the only evidence of the design for the back of a gittern bowl is the surviving gittern by Hans Ott and the back of a gittern painted in Polittico di Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1410–12 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), shown below left. I opted for the latter design, duplicated for both halves of the back by Paul Baker, below right.

Gittern and photograph by Paul Baker.
(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)

In the above photograph of the gittern made by Paul Baker, we see a detail on the tail, just below the hitch pins which anchor the strings, which is missing in all iconography, as far as I have seen: a hard piece of wood bears the pressure of the strings, preventing them wearing grooves in the end of the instrument. As far as I know, this important little device has no attested or commonly-used name, but Paul Baker calls it a string bearer. It is a practical necessity, as we see from the string bearer on the gittern made by Hans Ott below.

Photograph by David Van Edwards, used with his kind permission.

As the article on the historical evidence for instrument straps explains (available here), the evidence suggests that medieval fingerboard instruments were played without straps, balanced between two hands, just as Simone Martini and every other artist of the period shows. Thus, at my request, Paul made the Martini gittern without a strap button. The strap button on the Ott gittern is certainly a later addition, not original to the 15th century.

(As with all pictures, click to see larger in a new window, click in new window to further enlarge.)

In the detail above left from Martini’s painting, we see that only the edges of the bridge are visible, the rest hidden by the player’s hand; and, without visiting Cappella di San Martino in person, the details of the decorative ends of the bridge are not entirely clear from the reproductions available. After discussion with Paul, the design above right was agreed. 

The final missing detail was the carving on the peg box, typically the head of a real or mythical animal. I opted for a lion’s head on the basis that lions are visually appealing, the lion was a popular animal in medieval iconography, and an important animal in the bestiaries, symbolising the triumph of good (the lion) over evil (the dragon), which is to say God over the Devil, as the lion symbolised Christ.

I had a particular lion’s head in mind: the stone carving of 1446 in Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh. The original is below left, below right is a cast seen from two angles.

Given this material, Paul set to work, with the following process and result.

Photograph and carving by Paul Baker.
Photographs and carving by Paul Baker.
Photographs and carving by Paul Baker.

That completes the process of establishing the characteristics of medieval art and its relation to reality (1st article), 10 principles for gleaning real-world information about medieval instruments from iconography (2nd article), and the application of those principles to replicate, as far as possible, the gittern painted in 1312–18 by Simone Martini.

The outcome is most rewarding, resulting in an instrument that could only have been produced through close examination of the iconography based on the 10 verifying principles. That requires the commissioner of the instrument to have a clear idea of what is required, which I did through this process, and a luthier who is willing to work closely with the commissioner, with the skill to know what works, the luthier’s knowledge to pose further questions of practicality, and the flexibility to experiment. I had all of that in Paul Baker, to whom deep thanks.   



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2 thoughts on “How reliable is medieval music iconography? Part 3/3: Making the Martini gittern

  • 2nd May 2024 at 9:57 am

    Dear Ian,

    very interesting article. But what you describe and show as gittern in the Polittico di Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano is in my opinion a bowed instrument played (or hold) in a rabab like vertical position on the leg.

    Best Thilo

    • 2nd May 2024 at 2:00 pm

      Hello, Thilo, and thank you for your comment.

      As I understand it, bowl-back small fiddles with sickle-shape peg-boxes begin to appear in western iconography around 1400, so it’s within that period. Because we see the back and the sickle-shape peg-box only, not the bridge and the set-up, it could be interpreted either way, plucked or bowed, from that information alone. However, we do see that there are 8 tuning pegs, counting the pegs from one side and peg-stubs showing through from the other side, which indicates an 8 string instrument, probably in 4 double courses, which makes it a gittern. I don’t know of any 8 string fiddles at this time. The position of the instrument on the leg is the natural way to position a gittern when it isn’t being played. What do you think?

      All the very best.



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