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Ursula-Verena Fischer-Pace

Designs for Musical Instruments

There is an abundance of paintings with representations of concerts, musicians, and musical instruments in the 17th century Italian and Flemish painting. Musical instruments depicted in these paintings often correspond precisely to instruments owned by the paintings’ patrons.1 Some painters also enjoyed playing music and even built musical instruments themselves. Domenichino, for example, was also a builder and designer of sophisticated musical instruments. His deep knowledge in this area is reflected in the representations of musical instruments in his paintings, such as the meticulously depicted harp in the painting Il re Davide che suona l’arpa.2

Domenichino, Il re Davide che suona l’arpa (Fig. 1).

Naturally, paintings of King David usually offer an opportunity to paint a harp. Pier Francesco Mola’s drawing3 Apparizione dell’angelo a re David che suona l’arpa provides a very good example in a richly decorated harp, undoubtedly a preparatory work for a painting that, as yet, remains unknown.

Pier Francesco Mola, Apparizione dell’angelo a re David che suona l’arpa (Fig. 2).

Less common, however, are preparatory drawings for musical instruments, intended for carvers and soundbox builders. One such drawing, held at the Uffizi, has been long known of (and many works on it have been published4). This drawing has been compared with the Barberini Harp, in the collection of the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Roma, though it has not so far been identified as a preparatory drawing for this harp.5

Attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria, Progetto per un’arpa, (Fig. 3).

The drawing presents a project for a richly decorated harp, its column adorned with carvings: architectural motifs of volutes and capitals alternating with putti; atlas figures on pedestals dividing the column in three parts; and sphinxes at the bottom.

Attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria, Progetto per un’arpa, detail (Fig. 4).

Attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria, Progetto per un’arpa, detail (Fig. 5).

On the top frontside is the Barberini coat of arms: three bees surmounted by a cardinal’s hat, which is in turn supported by a winged putto. Bees are also depicted on the pedestals. There is a satyr seated at the base of the support. The upper crossbeam uniting the soundbox and the support ends in a volute formed by a sphinx.

Attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria, Progetto per un’arpa, detail (Fig. 6)

The drawing and the instrument known as the Barberini Harp, at the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali, are clearly closely related to each other as are the drawing and Giovanni Lanfranco’s painting Venere che suona l’arpa o la Musica from the collection of Antonio Barberini il Giovane.6

Giovanni Lanfranco, Venere che suona l’arpa o la Musica (Fig. 7)

The Cardinal himself commissioned the instrument and gave it to the musician Marco Marazzoli (1619-1663), known as “dell’Arpa” (of the harp). Marazzoli was in the service of the Barberini family as a singer, instrumentalist and composer. After his death, the instrument returned to Cardinal Antonio who also received Lanfranco’s above painting, which the musician originally commissioned his friend Lanfranco to paint.

I believe that the drawing held at the Uffizi is a preparatory drawing for the Barberini Harp displayed at the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali, and depicted in Lanfranco’s painting.7 The correspondence between the instrument made for Antonio Barberini and the harp depicted in the painting is obvious: it can be deduced from the perfectly corresponding figurative motifs. Except for the coat of arms, not depicted in the painting, all the decorative details are the same and are reflected in the carver’s description. From an iconographic and visual point of view there are therefore no justifiable doubts as to the identity of the painted harp being the same as that of the harp known as the Barberini Harp.

Compared to the harp, there are, however, some variations concerning the design of the decoration. On the instrument the sphinx is replaced by a lion’s head with a thick mane, also seen in the painting, whereas on the opposite side, above the coat of arms, the satyr is missing and in place of the cardinal’s hat we see a crown and the Golden Fleece. The latter change was made after the death of Cardinal Antonio (1671), when this prestigious order was conferred in 1673 on Prince Don Maffeo Barberini.8 The group of putti under the coat of arms is on the instrument formed of two atlases, small herculean boys wearing lion skins. In the row below are two draped youth atlases, and at the bottom a male mask and the Barberini heraldic motifs, the bee and a laurel branch. The fact that the Barberini coat of arms is missing in Lanfranco’s painting indicates that the painting was not commissioned by the Barberini but by the musician himself, who probably played the harp.

Lanfranco’s painting provides a clear chronological indication for both the drawing and the instrument, since it was undoubtedly painted before the painter’s departure to Napoli in 1634 and after the arrival in Roma of Marco Marazzoli, who commissioned the painting, and – as shown in some documents – had been in the service of Cardinal Antonio Barberini il Giovane since 1629.9 This date matches the dates indicated in the documents recently found in the Barberini papers of the Vatican archives. These dates refer to the payments made, respectively, to the harp maker Geronimo Acciari on August 23rd, 1632, and to the harp carver Giovanni Tubi in 1633.10 The figurative toolset of this drawing is not of a technical nature but purely decorative, confirming that the drawing dates back to the beginning of the 1630s, in line with the dating of the painting. However, the drawing cannot be attributed to Lanfranco due to its different graphic style. Rather, the evident correspondence in the carved motifs between the painting and the harp seems to indicate that Lanfranco had his friend’s instrument as a model in front of him.

The plastic motifs and the stylistic aspects of this drawing are rather of Cortonesque origin, bearing similarity to Pietro da Cortona’s designs for funerary monuments, engravings and liturgical objects such as a ceremonial mace, which – among other things – carries the Antonio Barberini il Giovane’s coat of arms.11

Pietro da Cortona, Mazza da ceremonia, drawing (Fig. 8).

Moreover, the architectural, figurative and animal motifs are also similar, as are the mixed technique of pen and watercolour. But the draftsman is not Pietro da Cortona either, thought it appears they could have been someone close to him. The author could also be Giovanni Tubi, the carver of the instrument, but we know nothing about his artistic background in drawing. Three decorative projects from the same Uffizi collection (Inv. 1591 E; Inv. 1592 E; Inv. 1593 are likely to have been made by the same draftsman.12

Anonymous (G. B. Soria?), Progetto per una cornice (Fig. 9).

Anonymous (G.B. Soria?), Progetto per un mobile (Fig. 10).

One could think of both Bartolomeo de Rossi and Giovanni Battista Soria, both active carvers in the service of the Barberini family (the former, for example, in the chapel of the canons in the Vatican between 1624 and 1627, and the latter as a carver of frames). Both are mentioned in the Barberini archives for those three years.13 All the stylistic clues, however, seem to lead to Soria, born in 1581. His father was a carpenter. Soria was educated in the workshop of Giovanni Battista Montano, also a carver and architect.14 Both the design and the execution of the Palazzo Barberini library are attributed to Soria, as well as the realisation, in the same period, of the richly carved and gilded organ façade for organs in the S. Maria sopra Minerva, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1633). Although the organs can be recognised from the bottom, their decorations seem to be very similar to the ones of the afore mentioned projects, and it is indeed interesting to notice that in this case these are musical instruments too. Besides, his mentor Montano also conceived and executed designs for organs in various Roman churches. Although no decorative drawings by Soria have been clearly identified so far (only architectural drawings), the fact that he was an expert cabinetmaker and architect, who was very active for Barberini together with Pietro da Cortona, corroborates my proposal that he might be the author and designer of such a project.15

Giovanni Battista Soria, Custodia della Cattedra Petri, (Fig. 11).

Similar motifs of volutes and racemes are present on the wooden case that Soria made in 1630 for the relic of the Petri Chair,16 as well as on a piece of furniture still in the Palazzo Barberini that contains a fresco by Guido Reni, the Putto Dormiente.17

Guido Reni, Putto Dormiente (Fig. 12).

The decorative vocabulary is in this case so incredibly similar to that of the drawing for the harp and to another in the Uffizi used for the base of a piece of furniture,18 that it could indeed be attributed to the same designer. This type of naturalistic and sculptural decoration doesn’t reflect the typical Bernini style, although many have already suggested Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s name as the author of “one of the most beautiful musical instruments ever known."19 But as Alvar Gonzáles Palacios points out, “it is somehow older,” permeated by the Barberini culture based on a more serious style.20 The presence on the sheet of an architectural black-pencil sketch in the form of a tabernacle or the cornice of a ciborium, in the lower right corner under the soundbox, may also provide further evidence of Soria’s activity as an architect, although one should keep in mind that his profession as an architect was far less important than has long been assumed, as Cristiano Marchegiani recently rightly pointed out thus downgrading Soria’s profile as an architect in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani.21

Attributed to Giovanni Battista Soria, Progetto per un’arpa, detail (Fig. 13).

His apprenticeship with Giovanni Battista Montano and with Antonio Pomarancio was a guarantee of his solid artistic professionalism, which is also undoubtedly recognisable in this project of refined decoration. Among other things, Soria was responsible for the edition of the architectural drawings of his master Giovanni Battista Montano, whose teaching played an important role for Cortona as well, the Barberini artist par excellence and one of Soria’s closest friends.

The proposal to attribute the conception and design of the Barberini harp to Soria is further justified by the above mentioned close relationship between the artist and Barberini’s commissions for the works in St. Peter’s and Palazzo Barberini.

Translated by Annamaria Celeste, with the generous support of the Istituto Storico Austriaco, Roma.

Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani [Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana].
Granata, Chiara. “’Un arpa grande tutta intagliata e dorata’. New documents on the Barberini harp.” Recercare XXVII/1 – 2 (2015): 139 – 164.
Lizzani, Goffredo. Il Mobile Romano. Milano 1970.
Marcucci, Luisa. Mostra di Strumenti musicali in disegni degli Uffizi. Firenze 1952.
Onori, Lorenza Mochi and Vodret, Rossella, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. I Dipinti. Catalogo sistematico. Roma 2008.
Ringbeck, Brigitta. Giovanni Battista Soria Architekt Scipione Borgheses. Münster 1989.
Satzinger, Georg and Schütze, Sebastian. Sankt Peter in Rom 1506 – 2006. Beiträge der internationalen Tagung vom 22. – 25. Februar 2006 in Bonn. München 2008.
Schleier, Erich. Disegni di Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 – 1647). (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi LIX), Firenze 1983.
Spear, Richard E. Domenichino. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982.
Ward–Jackson, Peter. Italian Drawings, Vol. Two: 17th – 18th Century. London 1980.
Disegni del Seicento Romano (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi LXXX), curated by Ursula Verena Fischer Pace, Firenze 1997.
Giovanni Lanfranco. Un pittore barocco tra Parma, Roma e Napoli, curated by Erich Schleier, Milano 2001.
Inventario 2, Disegni Esposti (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi), curated by Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, Firenze 1987.
La Galleria Armonica, Catalogo del Museo degli strumenti musicali di Roma, curated by Luisa Cervelli, Roma 1994.

Footnotes: 1. <i>Painting Music. Musik in der Malerei des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts</i>, edited by Sylvia Ferino-Pagden and Wilfried Seipel, Vienna 2001.&& 2. Richard E. Spear, <i>Domenichino</i> (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982), vol. I Text, p. 218, n. 64; vol. II, Pl. 230. Arianna De Simone, "Domenichino and Music," in <i>Studies in Art History 27/2016</i>, pp. 175-192.&& 3. <i>Disegni del Seicento Romano</i>, (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi LXXX) curated by Ursula Verena Fischer Pace, Firenze 1997, p. 133, n. 84, fig. 92, inv. 2064 F, pen and brown watercolour, traces of black pencil, raw paper, 270 x 205, backed with paper, Pier Francesco Mola.&& 4. Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Anonymous Roman of the seventeenth century, <i>Progetto per un'arpa</i>, inv. no. 1594 E; 450 x 278 mm, pen, brown watercolor, traces of black pencil, darkened white watermarked paper, mounted. Coll. Fondo Mediceo Lorenese; Luisa Marcucci, <i>Mostra di strumenti musicali in disegni degli Uffizi</i>, Florence 1952, p. 32, n. 13 ; <i>Inventory 2, Disegni esposti (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi)</i> edited by Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, Florence 1987, pp. 660-661; Ursula Verena Fischer Pace, op. cit. note 3, Florence 1997, pp. 39-41, n. 17, fig. 19. <i>Meraviglie sonore. Strumenti Musicali Del Barocco Italiano</i>, edited by Franca Faletti, Renato Meucci, Gabriele Rossi-Rognoni, Florence 2007, pp. 142-143, n. 5.&& 5. <i>La Galleria Armonica, Catalogo del Museo degli Strumenti Musicali di Roma</i>, edited by Luisa Cervelli, Rome 1994, p. 306-308, card n. 790; p. 319, figure 790.&& 6. Catalogue, <i>Giovanni Lanfranco. Un pittore barocco tra Parma, Roma e Napoli</i>, edited by Erich Schleier, Milan 2001, p. 266, n. 77, Lorenza Mochi Onori, description of the painting.&& 7. Fischer Pace, Florence 1997, p. 39, n. 17, fig. 19, as Anonimo Romano. In the catalogue <i>Meraviglie sonore</i>, see note 4, I proposed the attribution of the drawing to Soria.&& 8. See footnote 5, p. 307 and Chiara Granata, "'Un arpa grande tutta intagliata e dorata'. New documents on the Barberini harp," in <i>Recercare</i> XXVII/1-2, 2015, pp. 139-164, p. 158, fig. 8.&& 9. For dating, I refer to files on Lanfranco's preparatory drawings for <i>Venus</i> by Erich Schleier, <i>Disegni di Giovanni Lanfranco</i> (1582-1647). (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi LIX), Florence 1983, p. 162-164; and to Lorenza Mochi Onori's card in the catalogue, <i>Giovanni Lanfranco. Un pittore barocco tra Parma, Roma e Napoli,</i> edited by Erich Schleier, Milan 2001, p. 266, n. 77. On one sheet there also appears a sketch of a detail of the instrument with the group of carved atlases at the height of the mid row, and the pedestals dividing the three parts of the column (Schleier 1983, p. 163 XXXXIIIa, fig. 154).&& 10. See footnote 7 Chiara Granata, "'Un arpa grande tutta intagliata e dorata'". New documents on the Barberini harp" in <i>Recercare</i> XXVII/1-2 2015, pp. 139-164. Payments to the gilder and for the design are missing. Alvar Gonzáles-Palacios wrote on March 14th, 2021 in the <i>Alias</i> supplement of the newspaper <i>il Manifesto</i>, p. 11, an article about the Barberini Harp and its makers.&& 11. Fischer Pace, Florence 1997, p. 41, no. 19. A variant of the same mace is to be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Peter Ward-Jackson, <i>Italian Drawings, Vol. 2: 17th-18th Century</i>, London 1980, p. 43, no. 681, pen, brown watercolor, traces of black pencil, 412 x 183 mm (Pen and ink and wash over black chalk).&& 12. <i>Inventario 2, Disegni Esposti (Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi)</i> edited by Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, Florence 1987, pp. 660-661.&& 13. DBI (<i>Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani</i>), vol. 93, Rome 2018, pp. 373-377, by Cristiano Marchegiani.&& 14. DBI (<i>Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani</i>) vol. 75, Rome 2011, pp. 866-870, by Laura Marcucci.&& 15. Brigitta Ringbeck, <i>Giovanni Battista Soria Architekt Scipione Borhgeses</i>, Münster 1989.&& 16. For Soria's case for Saint Peter's Chair, see Hannes Roser, "Sankt Peter in den Sacri trofei romani des Francesco Maria Torrigio," in <i>Sankt Peter in Rom 1506-2006. Beiträge der internationalen Tagung vom 22.-25. Februar 2006 in Bonn</i>, eds. Georg Satzinger and Sebastian Schütze, Munich 2008, pp. 257-273, fig. 10 (p. 271).&& 17. Lorenza Mochi Onori, Rossella Vodret, <i>Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. I Dipinti. Catalogo sistematico</i>, Rome 2008, p. 236, Inv. No. 2603 (F.N. N/I).&& 18. See. Note 13 and Fig. 10.&& 19. Alvar Gonzáles Palacios, Introduction by Goffredo Lizzani, <i>Il Mobile Romano</i>, Milan 1970, p. VIII.&& 20. <i>Ibidem</i>.&& 21. DBI (<i>Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani</i>), vol. 93, Roma 2018, pp. 373-377, by Cristiano Marchegiani.&&


Synopsis: Practical Examination of the Barberini Harp&& Eric Kleinmann, harp maker&& && Renowned master historical harp builder Eric Kleinmann presents his research and examination of the Barberini Harp in preparation for construction of a facsimile. He observed changes to the neck of the original harp: What were the consequences? One of them is string length—Kleinmann made a small harp to test the presumed original stringing and the current stringing. Examinations revealed the harp’s neck had been hollowed out since it was originally made: Why? In addition, cracks were found in gilding, and a later addition of decoration has been found to disturb the lowest strings; and unexplained pinholes do not correspond to soundboard holes. Based on his examination, Kleinmann believes that the soundboard is not original. Dendrochronological examination found that the wood for it was growing between 1341–1644, before and during the Little Ice Age. The soundboard was made with wood grown up until 1605. 360-degree camera footage from inside the neck revealed repairs labels on the inside; some strange objects were found inside the soundbox. The ties on the harp are exquisitely crafted and a little unusual. Finally, Kleinmann is convinced that the column could not have been made in walnut wood. He has subsequently been proven wrong by Volker Haag and the two are now planning to collaborate on the issues arising from examinations.


Eric Kleinmann:
Practical Examination of the Barberini Harp

As part of continued research within the Barberini Harp Project, Harfenlabor invited master historical harp maker Eric Kleinmann to reflect on his findings following decades of research into, and practical examinations of the Barberini Harp. Harfenlabor also commissioned Kleinmann to build a small-scale model of the top of the harp for experiments with stringing, and present his conclusions at the Convening around the Barberini Harp, a symposium organised by Harfenlabor that took place on December 14-16, 2016, at the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali and at the Istituto Storico Austriaco, Roma.

© Armin Linke / Harfenlabor 2020
Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND International 4.0