The Glass Virginal
Wooden carcase, covered with glass rods
Length 151 cm, width 42 cm, height 25.5 cm
Museum no. 402-1872
Princely inventories of the 16th century occasionally refer to pieces of furniture, like tables and cabinets, covered with glass, but precious few examples actually survive. This casket and a keyboard instrument, probably came from Austria or Southern Germany. Both are decorated with strips of glass and glass-paste tableaux that resemble examples made in about 1600 in the ducal workshops of Schloss Ambras, near Innsbruck, in Austria.
Being a highly decorative but mysterious object, this instrument has acquired a number of romantic associations. These range from Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia to Queen Elizabeth I of England, whose glass virginal was seen by Paul Hentzner, a German traveller, at Hampton Court in 1600. Unfortunately, what Hentzner saw was also decorated with jewels, the royal cypher and verses in Latin, none of which this instrument has. Nevertheless, this glass-covered virginal has no known parallel amongst keyboard instruments, even if its maker and provenance remain a mystery.