Division Viol

Maker: School of Tielke

Date: ca. 1720

Geography: Germany

Culture: German

Medium: Wood, ivory, tortoise shell

Dimensions: Body length: 64.7 cm.
Body width: upper bout 29.1 cm.
center bout 22.3 cm.
lower bout 36.2 cm.
Rib height: top block 7.7 cm.
center bout 11.9 cm.
bottom block 11.9 cm
String length: 61.0 cm.

Classification: Chordophone-Lute-bowed-fretted

Credit Line: The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889

Accession Number: 89.4.956


Slightly smaller than the bass viola da gamba, the division viol is an instrument ideal for playing improvised variations (or "divisions") upon a repeated bassline, or ground. Division viols grew in popularity in England in the seventeenth century alongside publications of methodical treatises, such as Christopher Simpson's The Division Viol of 1665 and The Division-Violist of 1669, as well as John Playford's A Brief Introduction of 1667. Because of its large compass and range of over three octaves, the instrument allowed accomplished performers to play polyphonic compositions and rapid passagework, but was also ideal for informal consort playing.

In its original condition, this viol's six strings would have been tuned to D–G–c–e–a–d', but its alterations—its modern German 'cello neck and pegbox, a reduction to four strings, and its coat of transparent red-orange varnish—indicate that at one time it was used as a 'cello, as many such instruments were. Despite this, the seven-grained spruce table, one-piece bird's eye maple back and ribs, double purfling, and rosette of inlaid tortoiseshell are excellent examples of Tielke's workmanship and influence on viol making.