A virginal works on the same principal as a harpsichord and spinet. It is played with keys, which activate quills that pluck the strings, and has a range of 51 notes.
The soundboard is decorated with flowers and birds based on designs in the Florilegium by the Flemish engraver Adrian Collaert (around 1550-1618). The insides of the lids are decorated with the story of Adam and Eve, as well as hunting, maritime and pastoral scenes.
Materials & Making
The soundboard is made of spruce, the bridge of walnut, and the lid and case of oak. The naturals (the paler keys) are covered with boxwood, their edges with embossed paper, and the sharps and flats (the darker keys) with stained hardwood.
The decoration was painted in gouache, an opaque watercolour.
During the Commonwealth music was banned from churches but it still flourished in private houses and even at the court. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector from 1653 to 1658, employed a certain John Hingston as his Master of Music for £100 a year. He is also known to have entertained distinguished foreign visitors with music during meals.
John Loosemore was the leading organ builder of Exeter, Devon. Although the city had suffered greatly during the Civil War of 1642-1646, Loosemore was able to make his living during the Commonwealth. He produced virginals and other keyboard instruments for the more prosperous citizens. Prices would probably have started at about £5, the sum the diarist Samuel Pepys paid for a spinet in 1668.