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Who was Luc Antoine Eustache, the Inventor of Three-Course Harp according to Mersenne?

Dinko Fabris

Synopsis: In this talk at Harfenlabor’s 2016 Convening, the musicologist Dinko Fabris begins to unravel the enigma of Luc Antoine Eustache or Luca Antonio Eustachio, whom Marin Mersenne quotes as the inventor of the triple harp in his 1637 work <i>Harmonie Universelle</i>. Up until this point, it wasn’t even clear whether the Eustachio Mersenne wrote of had in fact lived. Fabris’ preliminary research, intended to verify the existence, history and importance of Luca Antonio Eustachio, confirmed that he was a Neapolitan, born in Puglia, and certainly had a prominent and visible position of a <i>cameriere segreto</i> in the service of the Borghese pope Paolo V, part of which was to organise music performances alla Palestrina. It was precisely through researching the documents on the curia and the papal court that Fabris was able to confirm the real existence of Luca Antonio Eustachio and glean some insights into his role as a musician and papal cameriere. In his research into the Bentivoglio family and music Fabris had already uncovered documents referring to Eustachio as a performer. More recently found documents confirm that he was also among those in charge of preparing performers such as the singer known as Francesca La pittora, who was trained by all the most prominent teachers of the early 17th century. With the new Barberini pope Urbano VIII, traces of Eustachio’s musical activity seem to vanish. Instead, Luca Antonio Eustachio appears in political positions. Fabris indicated that he is presenting some preliminary ideas, rather than structured material on Eustachio. At any rate, these are valuable departure points for further research.


We still do not know how the triple harp was invented or by whom. The musicologist Dinko Fabris began to answer the latter through preliminary research into Marin Mersenne’s claim in Harmonie Universelle (1637) that the harp “à trois ordres” was invented by one “Luc Antoine Eustache” or Luca Antonio Eustachio, sometime between 1596 and 1606. Harfenlabor invited Fabris to present his initial findings 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. This is a recording of his talk. At that point in time, Fabris aimed to verify Eustachio very existence, as well as his history and importance. This talk presents an outline for a biography of this musician and papal chamberlain, in service of the Borghese, Bentivoglio and the Barberini families, who went onto to political appointments, to eventually become the governor of Monterotondo.

© Armin Linke / Harfenlabor 2022
Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND International 4.0

Translated transcript of the talk:

Dinko Fabris: [00:00:12] As you see, we already have our starting point [on the screen], the question from my title: who is “Monsieur Luc Antoine Eustache,” referred to by Marin Mersenne as the inventor of the harp “à trois ordres?” Over the past thirty years, some pioneers began to write the enthralling history of the harp in the 17th century; many of them are here today. It’s not the first time I’m involved in the world of harp. The first time was thrilling, a conference in Basel, when Mara Galassi and Heidrun [Rosenzweig] dragged me into this extraordinary world of harp players. This was just because I had an academic interest in Napoli—anyone interested in the history of Napoli in the first half of the 17th century, cannot avoid encountering the harp. The thrilling modern rediscovery of this instrument indicates that a key role was played by a person whose life has remained unexamined. It was not clear whether a Luca Antonio Eustachio, cameriere del papa [papal chamberlain] of whom Mersenne speaks, did indeed exist. [00:02:02] We find this reference in the second part of Harmonie Universelle, published in 1637, in which Mersenne explicitly states that this Neapolitan gentleman, “chambrier du pape Paul V” is the inventor of the harp “à trois rangues,” devised by himself “il y a trente ou quarante ans,” that is, between 1596 and 1606, if we are to trust Mersenne.

Mara Galassi: [00:02:43] The dates, sorry?

Fabris: [00:02:45] Mersenne publishes his work in 1637, and says that the harp was devised by this Eustachio thirty or forty years earlier, so we can say between 1596 and 1606. We follow this indication, which is not necessarily a precise indication, of course. This statement is considered in that well-known, precious little book, L’arpa di Laura [Laura’s Harp], by Elio Durante and Anna Martellotti. Elio Durante boasts that they did not include a name index in this book, because musicologists are too lazy, and instead of reading the book just search the name of interest. The authors consider the history [behind the name] as far more important. This is why few have people read Durante and Martellotti’s lines about Luca Antonio Eustachio: his name is difficult to find as it’s only mentioned in a footnote. Anyway, they do not investigate beyond Mersenne, who remains the only source. The same happens, in a way, in the recent paper by [Chiara] Granata and [Dario] Pontiggia, where only Mersenne’s words are quoted and commented on. [04:36] In any case, the real life of Luca Antonio Eustachio had never been investigated, despite the importance of this claim: the inventor of the three-course harp. I will try to use the historical documents I have already published in 1999, in my book Mecenati e musici [Patrons and musicians]: four significant documents mentioning the name Luca Antonio Eustachio and new evidence for the reliability of Mersenne’s words, at least as far as it concerns the role of this noble musician in the papal court, and in the patrons' milieu in Roma in the first half of the 17th century, the period in which the harp was particularly prominent in Roma, and in which the Barberini Harp, the focus of our meeting here, was designed and built.

[00:05:40] Let’s begin with the surname of this person, and the origins of his family. In the valuable prosopography appendix of the book Legati e governatori dello Stato pontificio [Envoys and governors of the papal state], edited by Christoph Weber (Roma, 1994), on page 652, we find a reference to the Eustachi or Eustachij family, with a bibliography and the sources in which the Eustachis are connected to the envoys of the papal state. We find a Luca Antonio Eustachi or Eustachij who over time covers increasingly more important positions in Faenza, Rieti, Todi, San Severino, Fabriano, Benevento, Norcia and Orvieto, but, observe the dates, between 1670 and 1691. This Luca Antonio Eustachi becomes the bishop of Città di Castello in 1693. Obviously, he cannot be our Luca Antonio Eustachio, but probably his namesake grandson who lived long enough to publish an ecclesiastics book in Perugia in 1702, when he was the bishop of Città di Castello, exactly a century after his ancestor’s activity at the court of pope Paolo V. This book survives in only two copies, one in Perugia, the other one in Spoleto. Very importantly, we read in the book about the envoys and governors of the papal state we also read that the Eustachi are an Apulian family, in Roma since the 16th century as part of the Roman patriciate.

[00:08:05] Something needs to be said about this Apulian origin. Luca Antonio Eustachio did indeed exist, and was the governor of Monterotondo from 1639 to 1640, as referenced in sources found in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In 1636 he was the conservatore of the city of Roma. In the same family we find another Eustachio, Carlo Eustachio, who was the conservatore of Roma later, in 1663. Now, the Luca Antonio referred to as the “conservatore di Roma” and later the governor of Monterotondo is exactly the harpist and cameriere di papa mentioned by Mersenne. Monterotondo is now only 25 km away from Roma. In 1639 it was a small town in the middle of a fief owned by the Orsini family only a few years earlier. The name Orsini should already ring a bell for their connection with the composer Orazio Michi. For financial reasons, the Orsini handed this fiefdom in 1626 over to the Barberini family, who tried to make it more profitable. The acquisition was solemnized by the visit of Urbano VIII, welcomed with great pomp by the citizens, and with the elevation of Monterotondo to a grand duchy, granted by the pope in 1627. Under the new lordship, the now ducal palace was renovated and enriched with frescos and stuccos. In 1639, when Luca Antonio Eustachio became the governor of Monterotondo, a duomo was built that became the bishop’s cathedral. Walls were built around the town, which then grew in importance.

[00:10:11] To retrieve information about this Eustachi aristocratic family, both Christoph Weber, and a website retrieving heraldic documents use as a source the classic book by Teodoro Amayden, La storia delle famiglie romane [The history of Roman families], published in 1914. This book includes the Eustachi family coat of arms. This online heraldic search service doesn’t add much to the older sources. I’ll read a few lines that can be found online: “The Apulian Eustachi family have lived in Roma since the 16th century; Luca Antonio was conservatore in 1637, Carlo Eustachi in 1663. The former was a cameriere segreto [privy chamberlain] to pope Paolo V. This family is not that of the Eustachi from the Marche region, which flourished in Roma in the 16th century. A Bartolomeo da San Severino in the diocese of Camerino made a will in Roma in 1570. The Eustachi were included in the Bolla benedettina [by Benedetto XIV], but are now extinct.”

[00:11:35] This is just a little more information about this family. Their Apulian origin is confirmed by the biography of a very important family member, Giovan Tommaso Eustachio, who was born in Troia, near Foggia, in 1575. He died in Napoli as a padre in the Oratorio Filippino, a very important place for Neapolitan music. He spent a long time in Roma, in prominence at the papal court, and was the bishop of Larino for some years. A good bibliography is available for this Giovan Tommaso, because he died in the “odour of sanctity,” and was later beatified. He is very important, mainly for the history of the Neapolitan Oratorio. [On the screen] we can also see the coat of arms. If, as it seems to be the case, Giovanni Tommaso and Luca Antonio belonged to the same family that had moved to Roma at the end of the 16th century, and had a close connection to Napoli, it is quite possible that our harpist was also born in Puglia. The name “Napoletano” is correct, because Puglia was a province of the Kingdom of Napoli, so people in that region were considered to be Neapolitans. Moreover, we have the connection with Napoli through the Oratorio Filippino.

[00:13:18] Let us also consider that Troia, where Giovanni Tommaso Eustachio was born, was very close to the territory of Torremaggiore, where in the same period, Luigi Rossi, who became a composer for the Barberini family, and his brother Giovanni Carlo, the harpist from the Rossi family, were born. Another interesting connection. The testimony on the Vatican posts reported by Weber, declares Luca Antonio, after the governorship of Monterotondo, and his probable relative Carlo as conservatori of the city of Roma. Now, we need to briefly explain: the conservatori of Roma or of Camera capitolina [the city council], also known as Conservatores Camerae Alme Urbis were three magistrates who, together with the prior of the caporioni [Roman district mayors], constituted the Roman magistrate. Sometimes they were called the conservatori of the Roman people. The election to this office was highly coveted, due to conspicuous compensation and the rank of the Roman municipal or civic nobility given to the family of the elect.

[00:14:41] The election followed a rather complex procedure, and it could not be repeated until after a suspension of two terms. So, you couldn’t be a conservatore for two consecutive terms. The families that most frequently boasted this dignity were those with the oldest roots in the Roman patriciate. Among them stood out the Mattei family, well-known art collectors. In the short period between 1500 and 1564, the Mattei held this office twenty-three times, making them the most involved as the conservatori. The Roman patriciate was necessarily open to the outside, also due to the continuous influx into the city of new families following the popes. The Roman patriciate, whilst allowing the insertion of new families within the administrative assignments of Roma, tried to retain the control over the most important offices within this privileged circle, which explains Mattei’s long connection to this office.

[00:16:07] Now, skipping the less important issues that the conservatori were occupied by, they were appointed by the pope, to whom they went as soon as they were elected and represented the Roman people. They had jurisdiction over appeals, disputes, and so on. They also enjoyed the privilege of supporting the pope’s canopy rods during the coronation ceremony, therefore a very prominent position. In the ceremonies they wore the senatorial gowns of gold brocade ending at their feet, and were allowed to use the SPQR ritual formula when signing various acts. Unfortunately, there are no traces of payments to Luca Antonio Eustachio in the rich documentation published in 1995 by the Archivio di Stato di Roma in Fonti per la storia artistica romana al tempo di Paolo V [Sources for the Roman art history at the time of Paolo V]. Anyway, in this book, a payment document attracts our curiosity, and I’m mentioning it as so many harpists are present. It is an invoice dated 1615 issued by “maestro Lorenzo Dell’Arpe regattiere” [second-hand dealer] for the “robbe” [things] used to “receive the French ambassador in Porto and the Japanese ambassador in Aracoeli, from June to October 1615.” The same rigattiere, named Lorenzo Dell’Arpe, in 1619 received a sum for the “robbe” given on loan for the accommodation of the duke of Mantova, and previously he had received various fees for seven carpets for the chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore. He really was a second-hand dealer and who knows what the surname could refer to… It is however interesting that his name is the only mention of harps that we find in all the documents of the period of Paolo V. It is certainly easier to find documents recording pope’s camerieri segreti. I have to confess I was unable to start in time for our gathering a systematic search in the Vatican archives, in the state archives and in the Capitoline archives—the places where it is possible to find documents relating to payments in the papal court.

[00:18:46] To better explain the duties of a cameriere segreto, as Mersenne refers to him and as the documents proving Luca Antonio Eustachio’s real existence in this office identify him as, we need to resort to the monumental Dizionario di erudizione ecclesiastica [Dictionary of ecclesiastical erudition] by Gaetano Moroni, always a source for all our curiosities about the curia and the papal court. Here we find, for example, that even at the time of Moroni, in the mid-nineteenth century, a cameriere segreto to the pope was in charge of organising music performances alla Palestrina [in the Palestrina style]. On the screen you see the page in Moroni [offering account of] a mass in suffrage of an English nobleman who was very close to the Roman curia. The book says that in preparing the funeral mass, the cardinal protector, with the secretary of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, the chierico di camera, and Giorgio Talbot de Malahide, the “Cameriere Segreto Partecipante [Participating Privy Chamberlain] to the Pope, celebrated the Holy Mass accompanied by selected music in the Palestrina style.” So, we can see that the role of a cameriere segreto is still quite relevant in a musical performance in the 19th century. Here we can also see there aren’t many positions in the hierarchy under the cardinal protector and above the cameriere segreto. In Moroni’s dictionary, under the entry “Cameriere Segreto,” we first find the definition of “Camerieri Segreti Partecipanti.” Of all the generic camerieri in the Vatican service, the camerieri segreti partecipanti were the most important. They were all clerics and served as “coppieri al papa” [cup bearers to the pope], serving him wine during gala dinners. They also acted as special apostolic nuntii in charge of delivering objects blessed by the pope to sovereigns and their families. Their duties included the placing of the cardinal’s hat onto newly appointed cardinals. These were all very delicate tasks.

[00:21:16] Then there were the “Camerieri Segreti Soprannumerari” [Extra Privy Chamberlains], ecclesiastics who were also called “di mantellone” [of great cape] from the name of the characteristic coat of lower-ranking prelates. Then we find the “Camerieri d’Onore” [Honorary Privy Chamberlains], a more recent title than the other two, and finally we find the “camerieri laici” [lay], and for sure among the latter must have been Luca Antonio Eustachio, also because he was married. These last camerieri segreti could be “di cappa e di spada” [of cloak and spade], lay nobles divided into the camerieri di numero and soprannumerari. The camerieri segreti, who carried out service in the papal family and got some types of remuneration, were in turn divided into six other types… But here I stop myself, I have already bored you enough. It is important to see that the function of the cameriere segreto is one of great responsibility and visibility. Therefore, for the entire period of the court of the pope Borghese, Paolo V, Luca Antonio Eustachio is perhaps the first harpist to have become so visible, so important in a papal office. On the internet you can find images of how the pope’s camerieri segreti were dressed in the mid-nineteenth century. These images are dated 1860, so we can have a vague idea of how Luca Antonio Eustachio was dressed, considering the conservative environment of the Vatican over the centuries.

[00:23:15] Considering now the documentation that I had already published in the book about the Bentivoglio family and music, we find the first mention of Luca Antonio Eustachio “among the musicians of Cardinal Borghese in 1612, and with Giuseppino Cenci he made music for our lord.” This is another proof that the cameriere segreto Luca Antonio Eustachio actually played for the pope, it was not just an honorary position. In later documents, from 1613 to 1617, Luca Antonio Eustachio seems to be increasingly involved in tasks concerning the musical preparation of singers for the Marquis Bentivoglio of Ferrara. In the document, the second one below [on the screen], dated February 26, 1614, he is called the “cameriere segreto of Our Holiness,” and therefore we have another proof that Mersenne correctly defined his activity. Unfortunately, these documents do not tell us much about the musical activity of Luca Antonio Eustachio. Here again, you see, in the other document [on the screen] we read “cameriere segreto,” a qualification he boasts of a lot, in any case it seems to be particularly involved in the musical education, in the progress made by a singer for the Concerto Bentivoglio, named Francesca, a very interesting character. Francesca, known as La pittora [The Painter], is the most successful singer prepared in the years in which the Bentivoglio were interested in musically preparing singers, male and female, to then resell to the melomaniac cardinals of the time, in particular, to Cardinal Montalto. With little money they therefore made a good impression by providing capable singers. And to achieve this, Francesca was, for example, taught simultaneously by Luca Antonio Eustachio, Cesare Marotta, Arrigo Velardi, Annibale Rocca, Ippolito Machiavelli and even Girolamo Frescobaldi. Therefore, all the best teachers are involved in preparing this singer to have her ready, in a very short time, for her success in 1614.

[00:26:18] She makes a beautiful impression, but when she returns to Roma in 1615, it seems she does not find the same level of teachers she had in the first year, that is, evidently the Bentivoglio no longer needed to pay the teachers as much and hired the less important ones. Luca Antonio Eustachio seems very fond of this Francesca, he sends her gloves, fans, treats her in a protective manner, invites her to lunch with his wife, and they have conversations with Francesca and her husband. Francesca’s husband is the reason for the nickname by which this singer was known, Francesca the Painter. She was already married to a German painter named Guglielmo Grumik when studying in Roma to become a singer. He was, apparently a very rich man. In 1617 he wrote to the Marquis [Enzo] Bentivoglio asking him to send him back a chest containing many important things, including some of his paintings. Francesca also has a daughter educated in singing. At a certain point in 1617, Francesca shows up at the court of Torino where a new perspective opens up, because Francesca and her daughter become very important singers at the court of Savoia. They are welcomed, in the first period, in the house of an important musician, Enrico Radesca as another musician connected in some way with the world of harpists. Moreover, in those years Sigismondo d’India begins to be considered a particularly influential musician in Torino. The bond between Roma and Torino is therefore ensured by a strong contact. Luca Antonio Eustachio certainly has a role through his protection of Francesca, his student. He continues to supply items such as gloves.

[00:28:57] Unfortunately, we have no traces of Luca Antonio Eustachio’s musical activity from 1617 onwards, perhaps because the favour of his new masters, the Barberini, who held harpists in high esteem, has in some way increased his social ranking so as to induce him to a more political rather than musical activity, and he became the conservatore of the city of Roma and later the governor of Monterotondo. I could not establish the date of his death, but it will probably be possible to retrieve it as he was from a well-known patrician family. We now have some traces on which to reconstruct his biography. I could not find a portrait of Luca Antonio Eustachio, and instead, to conclude this meeting in which I simply tried to verify the existence, history and importance of this man at the court and therefore, the Roman environment of the early 17th century, I submit to your attention another image. I do not know if anyone has already seen it. A young scholar drew my attention to it last March in Sevilla. It is in the cathedral of Sevilla, you see a detail [on the screen] [00:30:23]. He asked me, “Why is there this character, this King David, named Giovan Leonardo Dell’Arpa, in the tradition of Sevilla?” The second thrilling thing is that when they examined this statue, they found it is not fully a statue, but that the harp is real and was inserted inside the statue, so that we actually have a new historical harp from the 16th century, in the local tradition of Sevilla and linked to the name of the most mythical Neapolitan instrumental virtuoso Giovanni Leonardo Dall’Arpa, whose travel to Spain is recorded in a Spanish painting from the end of 16th century as particularly influential on Spanish musicians. To show you this image I took advantage of this informal way, which I found to be a very nice way of communicating preliminary ideas without pretending to already have structured material on Luca Antonio Eustachio.

Cite:&&Dinko Fabris, <i>Who was Luc Antoine Eustache, the Inventor of Three-Course Harp according to Mersenne?</i>, Barberini Harp Project / Convening, by Studio Armin Linke / Harfenlabor, May 17, 2022,, MP4, 32:17,