Division viol, ca. 1640–65
Spruce and maple; L. 45 1/4 in. (115 cm)
Purchase, Robert Alonzo Lehman Bequest, 2009 (2009.42)
In England after 1600, small basses called division viols began to displace larger consort basses. They remained the dominant viol size until they went out of fashion during the eighteenth century. Later, most of the division viols were converted into violoncelli. This example is part of a small group that escaped modernization. Remarkably, it retains its original neck, fingerboard, tailpiece, and bridge. Because its label is lost and no comparable seventeenth-century viol has yet come to light, dating this instrument and attributing it to a particular maker or workshop is difficult. The date 1640–65 is based on construction details and decorative style. The viol's top is assembled from five bent staves, instead of a carved single board, and the ornamental carnation inscribed with a hot needle just below the fingerboard imitates embroidery patterns fashionable in England about 1600 and after. Furthermore, the portrait of a young man that decorates the viol's finial, or head, is intriguingly similar to one in The Yarmouth Collection, a still life commissioned in 1665 (Castle Museum, Norwich, England).