Viola da Gamba (Viol), 1680
Richard Meares (English, ca. 1647–1725)
Wood; L. 25.71 in. (65.3 cm)
Purchase, Louis V. Bell Fund, Mrs. Vincent Astor Gift, and funds from various donors, 1982 (1982.324)
This handsomely ornamented bass viol creates a strong visual impression through its golden orange-brown varnish and the extraordinary incised and inlaid decoration on all sides of its maple and spruce body. A carved female head surmounts the elaborate pegbox in which the six strings are secured. Most surviving stringed instruments from this period have been altered to meet changing musical demands of later periods. This example, however, exists in nearly original condition, with only the neck and fingerboard changed. The profusely decorated tailpiece is probably the original and the fingerboard would probably have been similarly decorated. The viol shows relatively little wear from use, and its elegance suggests that it was commissioned by an aristocratic amateur, perhaps more for its visual beauty than its tone.