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Viola da Gamba

labeled Richard Meares

ca. 1680
London, England, United Kingdom
Total L. 117 cm (46 1/16) L. of body 65.3 cm (25.71 in.); W. at upper bout 31.1 cm (12.24 in.); W. at center bout 22.5 cm (8.86 in.) W. at lower bout 37.4 cm (14.72 in.); H. top block of rib 8.8 cm (3.46 in.); H. of slope 12.5 cm (4.92 in.); H. at center bout 12.6 cm (4.96 in.); H. of bottom block 12.7 cm (5 in.); L. of strings 64.4 cm (25.35 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Louis V. Bell Fund, Mrs. Vincent Astor Gift, and funds from various donors, 1982
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Viols, the most esteemed bowed instruments of the late Renaissance, were only gradually displaced by the violin family. Viols differ from violins chiefly in shape, in number of strings and tuning, and in having fretted necks. All viols are played in an upright position between the knees or on the legs ("gamba" means "leg"), and the bow is held palm upward. Their sound is less brilliant and quieter than that of violin's. Chamber music for a consort of four to six viols was composed during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and solo works for the bass viol were being played until nearly the end of the eighteenth century. This instrument is of the type known as a division viol, measuring between two and three inches shorter than a consort viol.

    Richard Meares was an entrepreneur who expanded his business to music
    publishing and trade in cutlery. The label reads: Instrumentorum Musicorum
    Fabricatore in area / Boreali. D. Pauli apud Londinates (i.e., fabricator of musical
    instruments on the north side of St. Paul’s in London). “Fabricator,” an unusual
    term for an instrument maker at the time, points to a division of labor. It
    suggests that the carving and marquetry work and the building of the body
    were probably executed by different hands. The dating rests on dendrochronology
    of the carved-out two-part belly, which established 1672 and 1673
    as the youngest growth rings. The earliest possible manufacturing date is
    probably about 1677. The outstanding workmanship of the viol and the richness
    of the decoration point to a well-to-do customer.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Marking: (printed label) Richardus Meares,/Instrument.Music.Fabric.in area/Boreali.D. Pauli apud Londinates

  • Provenance

    Bill Monical (New York) 1974-1982
    Mrs. Paul (Maisie) W. Kohnstamm (New York
    Henry Werro (Bern, Switzerland)
    Hill & Sons (London)

  • References

    "The Richard Meares Viol in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Re-evaluated.." Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America (2004), vol. LXI.

    Laurence Libin. A Checklist of Viole da Gamba (Viols). 2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1989, pg. 19, ill.

    "Notable Acquisitions 1982-1983: Musical Instruments." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (1983), pg. 44, ill.

  • See also