Viola da mano played by Serafino Aquilano

(1493) - Rome: Borgia Apartments of the Vatican.
instrument: viola da mano (vihuela) | century: 15cent/3/late | catalogue nº: 15-302

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Creator Pinturicchio, Bernardino

Medium Artwork: Fresco


City Rome | Region Italy | Old kingdom Papal States

Body Corners Strings 6 courses Neck Long Pegbox Sickle
Bridge Obscured Frets Yes Back Flat Pegs Lateral
Technique Plucked plectrum

“Music” from the monumental fresco “Quadrivium” painted by Bernardino Pinturicchio’s workshop, ca 1493, located in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican, Rome. Comissioned by Alexander VI, soon after his election to the Papacy in 1492. The player of this viola da mano has been confirmed as Serafino Aquilano. The identification was made in caprotti1990 and reiterated in other Italian scholarship such as 2006 by Fabio Marcelli.

An excellent example of a vihuela with cornered waists, in Italian, a viola da mano. The instrument has 6 courses of strings matched by 12 pegs on its sickle-shaped pegbox, one of the main features that distinguishes it from similar Spanish depictions of the vihuela c. 1480-1500. The bridge is obscured by the player’s right arm. The neck is long and has frets shown. The depiction of playing position appears to be quite accurate, especially the placement of the fingers of the left hand in an easily recognisable chord position. The right hand is resumable plucking with the thumb in front of the index finger (figüeta española). Alternatively, it may indicate the use of a plectrum, although this is less likely. Most depictions of the plectrum from this period have the quill between the index and middle fingers. Gétreau points out that the instrument is being used together with a harp to accompany a singer [gétreau2004, p. 44], so attempts to interpret the implications of the depicted hand positions should take this into consideration.

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