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Archlute

  • Place of origin:

    Venice (made)

  • Date:

    1637 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sellas, Matteo (makers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Scrolled marquetry ebony and ivory veneering, engraved ivory plaques, ebony stringing, planed softwood (probably pine), fruitwood (possibly pearwood)

  • Museum number:

    1126-1869

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 7, The Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani Gallery, case CA9

Archlutes were played between about 1600 and 1650. This instrument would most likely have been called a liuto attiorbato (or theorboed lute) at the time it was made. It has seven courses or pairs of strings immediately above the fingerboard, which provided the melody and six separate courses which provided more bass. At this time it was only possible to make gut strings lower by making them longer, and the only way to accommodate them on the instrument was to use a longer and slightly twisted neck.

Matteo Sellas (fl. 1614-1650) worked at the sign of the crown (alla Coronna) in Venice. He was probably German in origin, like most lutemakers working in Italy at the time. A number of highly decorative instruments with Sellas' signature are found in public collections and he is considered to have been one of the finest luthiers of his day.

Physical description

'Back of fifteen ivory ribs with double ebony stringing between. The belly is finely carved with a rose and has ivory heart-shaped ornaments at each end. The back of the neck has marquetry scrollwork decoration of ivory and ebony. The front is veneered with ebony surrounding ivory bands engraved with scrollwork and landscapes. Eleven thin brass frets have been added at a later period.

The main pegbox has fourteen pegs for seven double courses, and the upper has the same, though the upper nut is grooved for five double courses.'

Anthony Baines, Catalogue of Musical Instruments in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Part II: Non-Keyboard Instruments(London, 1978), p. 31.

Place of Origin

Venice (made)

Date

1637 (made)

Artist/maker

Sellas, Matteo (makers)

Materials and Techniques

Scrolled marquetry ebony and ivory veneering, engraved ivory plaques, ebony stringing, planed softwood (probably pine), fruitwood (possibly pearwood)

Marks and inscriptions

MATTEO SELLAS ALLA CORONA / IN VENETIA
"Matteo Sellas at the sign of the Crown, Venice".
Inscribed on the fingerboard.

Matteo Sellas [ . . ? ] Corona / In Venetia. 1637.
Matteo Sellas [at the sign of the?] Crown, Venice, 1637
On a printed label inside the instrument, in the centre of the body, visible through the rose; the last number of the year, 7, is inscribed in ink.

Dimensions

Length: 116 cm total length, Width: 32.5 cm, Length: 42.5 cm Length of Belly, Length: 30 cm Length of neck, Depth: 150 mm

Object history note

The instrument had brass frets fitted it at a much later date than 1638 (probably the nineteenth century); the originals would have been of gut. The two sections of ivory inlay below the bridge appear to be restorations.

It was bought from M. Baur of Paris in July 1869 for £40.

Descriptive line

Archlute, made by Matteo Sellas, Venice, 1637

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Anthony Baines: Catalogue of Musical Instruments in the Victoria and Albert Museum - Part II: Non-keyboard insturments. (London, 1998), p. 31.
Rpobert Spencer: "Chitarrone, Theorbo and Archlute", Early Music, Vol 4, No 4 (October 1976) pp. 407 - 423.
Franca Falletti, Meucci, Renato, Rossi-Rognoni (eds.) Marvels of sound and beauty. Italian baroque musical instruments, [Exhibition, Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia, 2007]. (Florence, Firenz Musei, Giunti Editore S.p.A., 2007), pp 203-204

'34. Theorbo ("Liuto attiorbato")
(Venice, 1638)
Matteo Sellas
(Venice, fl. 1610-1661 c.)
Ebony, ivory, pine
London, Victoria & Albert Museum, inv. no. 1126-1869 (Cat. 7/4)
This instrument is inscribed on the fingerboard Matteo Sellas alla Corona / in Venetia and a printed label inside gives the date 1637. It would most likely have been called a liuto attiorbato at the time it was made. This definition indicates an instrument that is entirely similar to the theorbo, but with a vibrating string length of less than 70 cm (as in our case). This means that it could be tuned exactly like a lute, whereas the theorbo with its longer strings was tuned in the re-entrant mode, with the last two courses tuned an octave lower than the lute.
The back is made up of fifteen ivory ribs with double ebony spacers in between. The belly is finely carved with a rose and has ivory heart-shaped inlaid ornaments at each end. The back of the neck has marquetry scrollwork decoration of ivory and ebony. The front is veneered with ebony surrounding ivory bands engraved with scrollwork and landscapes. Eleven thin brass frets were added at a later period. The main pegbox has fourteen pegs for seven double courses, and the upper has the same, though the up-per nut is grooved for five double courses. Matteo Sellas (fl. 1610-1661 c.), and his brother Giorgio (fl. 1600-1645), were considered to have been amongst the finest luthiers of their day. Matteo worked at the sign of the crown (alla Corona) and Giorgio at the sign of the star (alla Stella) in Venice. Like most lute makers working in Italy at the time, they were both German in origin: their father came from Füssen.
A detailed list of all the surviving instruments by Matteo Sellas can be found in ANTONIONI 1996, pp. 128-130.
This instrument was bought in 1869 from a Parisian dealer by the name of Bauer at the same time as Rossini's treble recorder and oboe [Cat. 35, 43], and at a cost of £40.
James Yorke
BIBLIOGRAPHY
ENGEL 1874, p. 243; BAINES 1968, p. 30; SPENCER 1976, pp. 407-423; TOFFOLO 1987, pp. 79-84; ANTONIONI 1996.'

Labels and date

Archlute
1637

The pitch of a lute varied according to its size. This archlute has an extended range in order to accompany singing or to play the important bass part in a small instrumental ensemble. It is by the most prolific and renowned Venetian maker of guitars and lutes of the time. Like most other instrument makers in Italy then, he probably came from Germany.

Italy (Venice)

By Matteo Sellas

Softwood, fruitwood and ivory; marquetry in ebony and ivory [09.12.2015]

Materials

Ebony; Ivory; Softwood; Brass; Pearwood

Techniques

Carving; Veneering; Stringing; Marquetry; Engraving

Subjects depicted

Hearts; Roses

Categories

Musical instruments

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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