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  • Place of origin:

    Venice (city) (made)

  • Date:

    1623 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sellas, Matteo (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ebony and ivory veneer back and sides, pine soundboard, ebony and mother-of-pearl neck and brass frets

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Matteo Sellas of Venice who worked between 1620 and 1650 was one of the leading stringed instrument makers of his day. He made this guitar in 1623 for Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany (1610 - 1670), then merely a boy of 13. Learning the lute or guitar was considered part of a prince's education at this time, and like other princely instruments this example is lavishly decorated with costly materials like ebony and ivory.
Instead of being discarded, this majestic guitar was later converted into a 'chitarra battente', a wire strung guitar that was usually strummed with a plectrum instead of the fingertips.

Physical description

Body with deeply vaulted back and flat sides, all covered with veneered parallel zigzag bands of ebony and ivory. The pine belly is elaborately decorated with delicate arabesque scrolls of turtleshell, framed with bands of a dog's-tooth pattern in turtleshell and mother-of-pearl. The bridge is missing. At a later date the lower parts of the sides have been cut in order to allow the belly to be bent inwards at the level of the bridge. There are five ivory hitch studs at the base of the body.

The neck is veneered with marquetry panels of scrollwork in the same materials as the decoration of the belly. The fingerboard has a formal pattern of mother-of-pearl and turtleshell triangles. Nine brass frets have been added and there are six well-worn frets set into the belly, five of them of short width. The head was originally for ten pegs, but four extra pegholes have been bored along the centre line. The pegs are now missing.

Extract from a lecture by V&A conservator Reg Dee “Restoration of musical instruments 1964 – 68” at the UKIC/ V&A Christmas Symposium on Early Musical Instruments, 15th December 1983:
"During the restoration of these instruments, it became apparent that many had suffered a loss of their surface decoration. This took the form of ivory, ebony, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, brass, pewter, silver and various coloured woods. A fine example of this was a guitar by Matteo Sellas of Venice, dated 1623 (7356-1861). This instrument was beautifully decorated in herringbone pattern made from ivory and ebony. Due to shrinkage on its ribs and part of the back, some of these small mosaic pieces in zig-zag ebony and ivory marquetry had been lost. lt required patient restoration work to cut and re-fit many small pieces to replace the loss. Also, the belly was loose and was splitting. When opened up, a label was found inside on the belly which indicated the instrument was possibly dating from 50 years earlier than had been previously thought. Finally, some ivory pieces missing from the fingerboard were replaced with old ivory."

Place of Origin

Venice (city) (made)


1623 (made)


Sellas, Matteo (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Ebony and ivory veneer back and sides, pine soundboard, ebony and mother-of-pearl neck and brass frets

Marks and inscriptions

Io Mateo Selas/ in anno 1623/ per sua altezza Firé a 100 D ,,, ni
I, Mateo Selas/ in the year 162/ for his highness of Florence ...
1) Signature; Italian; Italic; On underside of the soundboard; inscribed; ink; Sellas, Matteo; 1623


Length: 86.5 cm, Depth: 14 cm, Length: 46.5 cm body, Width: 21.5 cm upper bout, Width: 19 cm middle bout, Width: 27 cm lower bout

Object history note

This guitar would originally have been made for the household of Grand-Duke Ferdinand of Tuscany. The addition of four extra tuning pegs would suggest that it was converted at a later date into a chitarra battente, a five triple course instrument, strung with wire and played with a plectrum.

Descriptive line

Italian, Venice, Matteo Sellas, 1623

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

Peter Thornton, Capolavori lignei in formato ridotto, in Arte Illustrata, Anno V, n.47, gennaio 1972, (pp. 9-12, pp.50-7, pp.108-110, trans. by Elena Lante-Rospigliosi

Translated from the Italian "However one of the most prestigious instruments in the collection is the guitar in fig.8. During restoration a label was discovered inside the body (where it was impossible to see unless the instrument was opened up) on which is written in ink, “IO, MATEO SELAS, IN ANNO 1623 PER SUA ALTEZZA FIRE A 100 D…” the last word is indecipherable but probably indicates the price asked for this instrument by Matteo Sellas, member of a well-known Venetian family of lute makers. “His Majesty in Florence” in 1623 must refer to Ferdinand II Grand Duke and for this reason this beautiful instrument with a strange zigzag pattern made of ivory and ebony marquetry was made for the orchestra of the Tuscan prince."


Mother-of-pearl; Ivory; Pine; Ebony; Brass; Turtleshell


Veneering; Joining


Musical instruments

Production Type



Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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