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Musical Instruments

Flemish Virginals

Key data

(Antwerp?), 1572

At quint or octave pitch; compass C/E-a2 (without g#2)

Case made of poplar painted in tempera; softwood soundboard; keytops made of bone (white keys) and bog oak (sharps); brass and steel strings

H. 17.9 x W 92.5 x D 33 cm

Inv. 1990.426.


That this instrument, which the people of Basel used to called a Spinet, is Flemish in origin can be deduced from the design, the painting and the date on the jack rail (SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI 1572). The painting on the inside of the lid shows Orpheus invoking the power of music. Unusually, the dramatic end of that particular story – the loss of Eurydice, who has to return to the Underworld – is also depicted on the panel behind the keyboard. The subject was presumably chosen by the man who commissioned the instrument, the merchant Andreas Ryff (1550–1603) of Basel. He bought it as a present for his bride on their wedding day, an event alluded to by the painted apples on either side of the keyboard and the year of their wedding, 1574, painted on the lid to the left of it.

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Basel Historical Museum
Management & administration
Steinenberg 4
PO box
CH – 4001 Basel

Reception: +41 61 205 86 00

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