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Top joint

Top joint

  • Place of origin:

    Naples, [Italy] (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1730-1750 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Turtle shell veneer, gold piqué, mother of pearl inlay, turned and bored

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This exquisitely decorated instrument is unsigned but was probably made between about 1730 and 1750 in Naples, where furniture veneered with inlaid turtle shell was a speciality. The treble recorder was played in the key of F, and composers like Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750) and Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) wrote music for it. However, by about 1780 the recorder had lost its place in the orchestra to the flute, a louder instrument. Before the museum acquired this object, it formed part of a decorative trophy of old wind instruments that hung on a wall of the Paris apartment of Gioacchino Rossini (1792 - 1868), the great Italian composer of light opera.

Physical description

Treble recorder of three joints, of turned fruitwood, veneered in turtle shell inlaid with gold piqué, silver and mother of pearl, mounted with ivory, plainly turned. The sections are turned and bored, the outer surfaces wrapped with turtle shell, which is overlapped and welded to itself after heating. The turtle shell would then be polished so that no line of joining is apparent.
[Treble recorder] A slightly bulbous ivory mouthpiece is turned with plain mouldings at the base. It is cut away on the underside and the fruitwood core is visible, with the fruitwood infill. Below this the joint is veneered in turtle shell, turned in the shell with shallow collars at top and bottom and showing on the top and bottom edge a pattern in gold piqué of addorsed S-scrolls with pendants including small circles of mother of pearl. Below the voicing aperture (through which the fruitwood core is visible) the turtle shell is inlaid with two coats of arms in gold, below a closed crown which is deeply engraved into the turtle shell. The dexter shield is barry of five, the two gold bars each engraved with continuous curving motifs. The sinister shield is barry of six, the three gold bars each engraved with two horizontal lines, the three bars of shell each inlaid in gold with single fleurs-de-lys. The core of the joint is visible below the lower edge of the turtle shell, where it extends approximately 4 cm to provide the core for the ivory collar (:2).
[Collar] Collar of ivory, of barrel form, turned at top and bottom with small, plain mouldings.
[Main joint] A plain, turned section, veneered with turtle shell and inlaid with bands of gold and mother- of-pearl inlay at top and bottom. The core of the joint extends beyond the decorated area at each end to provide for connection with the adjacent sections of the recorder, the narrower areas bound with fine cord to provide a tight fit. The joint is set with five finger holes on the top surface, each with an inlaid, framing mount in the form of a baroque cartouche, of engraved silver and with an additional finger hole below these, which is set within the inlaid decoration and shows no framing mount. There is an additional finger hole, with a similar collar, on the underside at the top.
[Bottom joint] A bell-shaped foot joint, with a turned ivory collar at the top and an ivory edge section to the base. The upper edge of the turtle-shell collar is set with the freize of addorsed S-scrolls in gold piqué and mother of pearl. The upper ivory collar is pierced with one finger hole on the underside of the instrument

Place of Origin

Naples, [Italy] (probably, made)


ca. 1730-1750 (made)


unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Turtle shell veneer, gold piqué, mother of pearl inlay, turned and bored


Length: 51 cm, Diameter: 4.5 cm

Object history note

This recorder was one of a number of historical wind instruments that formed part of a decorative trophy on the wall of the Paris apartment of the composer of light opera Giocchino Antonio Rossini (1782-1868). As yet the arms of the original owner (inlaid into the turtle-shell) have not been identified.

When it was acquired in 1869, the Museum's Art Referee, Matthew Digby Wyatt wrote from Paris on April 20th:
'This instrument in fine tortoiseshel inlaid with fine piqué work in gold is a fine and rare specimen of the (I believe) Neapolitan work of the middle of the last century. It bears inlaid in gold the arms -[sketch added here]. It belonged to Rossini's well-known trophy, and was well worthy to do so as it is a really fine specimen of the feasability of applying art to musical instruments of a similar class. It general form is somewhat this - [sketch added here] - and very elegant. Upon the whole I think the prices asked reasonable for this object and recomment the purchase. ' The recorder was purchased form M. Bauer, for 600 francs (24). Matthew Digby Wyatt's report included sketches of the instrument.
[Bottom joint] This is an early acquisition for which there are no Registered Papers. It was bought from Mr M. Bauer on 12 July 1869 for £24.0.0. and was described as a flute à bec.

Historical context note

The technique of inlaying turtle shell with gold, silver and mother-of-pearl had originated in Naples at the end of the sixteenth century and the city remained noted for such work throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Pieces decorated with these materials were popular souvenirs for travellers making the Grand Tour. Turtle shell was extremely soft, and could be worked with gentle heat and polishing, so that joins in the pieces used for covering items could be 'welded' together, as on this instrument, which shows not join lines in the veneer. The arms incorporated into the design of this instrument suggest that it was a particular commission.

Descriptive line

Top joint from treble recorder, of fruitwood, veneered in turtle shell inlaid with gold piqué, silver and mother of pearl, and set with turned ivory collars. Probably made in Naples, Italy, ca. 1730-1750

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

London, Victoria & Albert Museum: Catalogue of Musical Instruments in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Part II, Anthony Baines: Non-keyboard instruments (London, 1998), p. 86, fig. 117
20/6 TREBLE RECORDER. Italian; early or mid-eighteenth century. Fig. 117.
In three joints of wood covered with tortoiseshell, with gold piqué and mother-of-pearl inlay including a royal cypher on the head joint. Ivory mounts. Fingerholes have inlaid surround of silver, engraved.
Dimensions: Length 51; speaking length 45. Bore of main joint, at top 1.80, at bottom 130 [sic, not 1.30]; of lower end of foot 1.25.
Museum no. 1124-1869
Once the property of Rossini,
Florence, Museo degli Strumenti Musicali, eds. Franca Falletti, Renato Meucci, Gabriele Rossi-Rognoni: Marvels of Sound and Beauty, (Florence, 2007), p. 205.

Labels and date

TREBLE RECORDER Italian, about 1740. Wood covered with tortoise shell,
gold piqué and mother of pearl inlay and ivory mounts.

Museum No.: 1124-1869
Non-Keyboard Catalogue No.: 20/6

The treble recorder, played in the key of F, was widely used in both continuo
and solo music until about 1780, falling into disuse with the rise of the orchestra.
Italian composers of this period included Scarlatti and Vivaldi. [pre September 2000]

Production Note

In Marvels of Sound and Beauty - Italian Baroque Musical Instruments, eds. Franca Falletti, Renato Meucci and Gabrilele Rossi-Rognoni, (Florence, 2007) the date has been given as "c. 1750".


Silver; Gold; Ivory; Mother of pearl; Fruitwood; Turtle-shell


Turning; Inlay; Boring; Pique

Subjects depicted

Coat of arms; Crown


Musical instruments

Collection code


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