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Octave virginals

Octave virginals

  • Place of origin:

    Augsburg (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1610 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ebony veneer, applied silver ornament, enamel medallions and spruce soundboard

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at the Horniman Museum, London []

In the 1600s playing keyboard instruments well was considered a princely virtue, as was the collecting of outstanding curiosities. Cabinets, used for storing smaller curiosities, were made in large numbers in Augsburg (Germany) at this time, and the most prestigious examples were decorated in the same way as this instrument. Both the base and lid of this octave virginals are fitted with ingeniously hidden compartments, a speciality of Augsburg cabinetmakers. This instrument could be regarded as an exquisite toy, and more suitable for a prince than a professional musician.

Physical description

The case is veneered in ebony, decorated with silver ornament in the form of strapwork surrounding small circular and oval medallions variously embellished with etching, engraving and enamelling. The underside is fitted with a mirror. Both the lid and the plinth of the virginals contain hidden compartments for writing materials. The virginals' lid is fitted with a sliding slat at the top, which conceals a hidden compartment, and its plinth contains a drawer with a secret catch. The soundboard is spruce and contains a rose of cut-out paper.

On the inner side of the top there are three hexagonal windows decorated by the allegorical figures of four senses: hearing, taste, touch and sight. On opening the small openings on the silver gilded plaques, one can see biblical scenes. On the outer side of the casket the enamels depict the seven liberal arts and the whole ensemble is covered with floral motifs in silver and enamel.

The decoration is characteristic of the highly prestigious cabinets d'Allemagne, made by Augsburg silversmiths. A very similar example, in the National Museum of Hungary in Budapest, is thought to have been built by Johannes Klebiller, using designs of Lucas Kilian.

Place of Origin

Augsburg (made)


ca. 1610 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Ebony veneer, applied silver ornament, enamel medallions and spruce soundboard

Marks and inscriptions



Length: 45 cm, Width: 24 cm, Height: 18.75 cm, Weight: 6.58 kg

Descriptive line

German, Augsburg, 1590-1610

from virginal

from virginals

from drawer on front of virginals. When removed, the tray reveals a shallow compartment underneath it.

from virginal


Ebony; Spruce; Silver; Paper


Enamelling; Veneering


Musical instruments

Production Type



Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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