Octave spinet, unknown

Octave spinet, unknown

Octave spinet
Unknown
Italy
About 1600
Cypress body and soundboard, with sycamore bridge and pearwood wrest-plank; painted inside of the lid and board above keys, with carved and gilded putti at each end of the keyboard
Length 71 cm (front), 75.6 cm (back); Length 162 cm (bass end), 43 cm (treble end)
Museum no. 218:1, 2-1870

Octave spinets were portable keyboard instruments, widely used in private homes in Italy throughout the 17th and 18th centuries to accompany singing. Dr Charles Burney (1726 - 1814), the great English musicologist of his day, wrote in 1771: 'the keys are so noisy, and the tone so feeble, that more wood is heard than wire'.

The inside lid of this example is painted with the tale of Arion and the Dolphin, a suitable decorative theme for a musical instrument, as the story tells of a famous singer, from ancient Greece, who was rescued by a dolphin after being robbed and thrown overboard by pirates.