The Theewes Claviorgan

Object Type
A claviorgan was fitted with strings as well as organ pipes. This example has lost almost all of these, though the soundboard, case and harpsichord stops still survive. Hardly any historic claviorgans are extant, but they were fairly widespread during the 16th century and a number were owned by Henry VIII.

This claviorgan was made in London by Lodewyk Theewes. He was a native of Antwerp in Flanders (now Belgium) and settled in London in the parish of St Martin-le-Grand, becoming naturalised in 1567.

Signed and dated 1579, this claviorgan is the earliest surviving keyboard instrument to be made in Britain. It is painted according to the fashions of the time. The case is decorated with marbling and strapwork, the lid with monkeys and Orpheus playing to the beasts, a popular classical theme. The monkeys are derived from engravings of about 1550 by the German printmaker Virgil Solis (1514-1562). Furniture of this date is was often brightly coloured, but little of this decoration has survived. Prized in the 16th century, the claviorgan was more of a curiosity by 1660, when Samuel Pepys called it 'but a bawble with a virginall joining to it'.

Before the claviorgan entered the collections of the V&A in 1890, it had long stood in the chapel of Ightham Mote, Kent. The house has no known connections with the families whose coats of arms decorated the instrument.