Still playable after 450 years, this spinetta embodies the spirit of Italian humanism in its sophistication and elegance. The graceful pentagonal shape of the case conforms to the layout of the strings stretched over the soundboard, and the exterior is richly decorated with panels of inlaid wood, mother-of-pearl, and tracery. Layers of pierced parchment recreate a Gothic rose in the sound hole. Dolphins appear in the inlay flanking the keyboard, and carved figures of grotesques bracket the keyboard. Over the keys is a line of poetry meant for the musician's eyes: "I'm rich in gold and rich in tone; if you lack virtue, leave me alone." It embodies a pun on the word "virtue" (del buono); in other words, the musician should have personal goodness as well as musical skill.
The musician who commissioned this instrument was Eleanora della Rovere (daughter of Isabella d'Este), who grew up in a cultivated court where both religious and secular music would have been heard and performed. Eleanora became duchess of Urbino when she married Francesco Maria della Rovere and set up her own court. Her commission of this instrument and the price paid are recorded inside the case ("Ordered and made for Her Excellency the Duchess of Urbino in the year of our Salvation 1540 and paid 250 roman scudi."), but the name of the maker is not known.
Inscription: 1. (at left of removable strip of frontboard) VENETIS RICCHO SON DORO v ET RICCHO SON DI SVONO 2. (at right of removable tip of frontboard) NON MI SONAR SI TU NON HA BUONO M v D v XL 3. (above carvings at sides of keyboard) left - VI v ; right - IES 4. (on reverse of removable panel, written in ink) Ordinanza e Fatta per sua Eccelenza [la signora?] Duchesa D'Urbino L'anno di Nostra Salute 1540 i pagata 250 scudi Romani No. 50 5. (Inscribed under keyframe) "+555 A di 12 de agosto Angello Micheli dimazo feci Lach...cadura de questosoni"
Elena (Eleonaora) della Rovere
"Keyboard Instruments." Summer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (1989), Vol. 47, No. 1, pg. 2-3, 14-15, ill.
"Musical Instruments in The Metropolitan Museum." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (1978), Vol. XXXV, No. 3, pg. 34-35, ill.
Musical Instruments of the Western World. McGraw Hill Book Company. New York, Toronto, 1967, pg. 88-81, fig. 20, ill.
Keyboard Instruments in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Picture Book. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1961, pg. 12-13, fig. 5, ill.