Madonna and Child and Saint James and St Helen. Painting by Nicolò Pisano, c. 1512.

(1512/ca) - Milan: Brera Museum.
instrument: viola da mano (vihuela) | century: 16cent/1/early | catalogue nº: 16-119

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Creator Pisano, Niccolò

Medium Artwork: Painting


City Ferrara | Region Italy | Old kingdom Ferrara

Body Corners Strings 7 strings Neck Medium Pegbox Sickle
Bridge Fixed Frets Yes Back Pegs Lateral
Technique Plucked fingers thumb in

An angel playing a viola da mano [vihuela]. Detail from a larger painting of the Madonna and Child.

This instrument is reminiscent of 15th-century images of vihuelas with strongly pronounced cornered waists. The waist is approx 1/3 of body length. The instrument is average size, the bridge is covered by the player’s right hand but appears to be placed about 1/3 of distance from bottom of body to neck, very high. The instrument has two c-holes, no rose, almost in centre of body. The body is presumably shallow. It has a broad neck with four frets visible, sickle shaped pegbox with six pegs (single courses?). The right hand plucks with a thumb-under position, but a clear hand position. It appears not to be an accurate depiction of a real player. This is an instrument that looks very much like what might be expected of a bowed viola. It could be an example of a multi-purpose vihuela, although it would also be plausible to think of it as a bowed vihuela being plucked. This could be attributable to the use of stock cartoons in the artist’s workshop, and not a good depiction of actual practice.