Edinburgh Local

Object(s) of the Month: Simplicity to Grandeur

This month we have two objects of the month: both are harpsichords which one of our volunteers, John Williamson, chose to highlight the variety of instruments available to view at St Cecilia’s Hall.


Left hand picture: Single Keyboard Harpsichord, Bernard Trasuntinis (1574)

Unlike many of the other harpsichords that are on display at St Cecilia’s Hall, this harpsichord is without any artwork on it. However, if you look closely you can see that it does have a very decorative rosette or rose on the soundboard of the instrument. Rosettes are made from cut layers of wood and parchment and require a lot of skill to create.

Close-up of rosette

This single-keyboard harpsichord was made in Venice in 1574 by Bernard Trasuntinis. Although it is just plain looking, the craftsmanship is excellent and it still looks robust. Like other harpsichords made at that time, you could take it out of its case and put it down to play on a table. Today it stands in a modern outer case. It is the oldest playable instrument in our collection so this makes it an excellent piece of art in itself.

Right hand picture: Double Manual Harpsichord Luigi Baillon (1755)

In contrast, we also have this highly decorated harpsichord which catches your eye as soon as you walk into the room. This harpsichord was made in 1755 by Luigi Baillon in France. When it was originally made, it was much more similar in decoration to the Trasuntinis and very simply decorated. In the nineteenth century the gold stand and the magnificent paintings were added. They made this into a very bold looking instrument impressively standing out on its own or in the gallery. The paintings just ooze from this harpsichord, from the Neptune scene to the slightly embossed chinoiserie design.