Monday, February 13, 2012

Artifact Monday: Queen Elizabeth's Virginal

This stunning piece of Venetian craftsmanship is said to have belonged to Queen Elizabeth, probably in the later part of her reign. It is currently held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Please read more about it here. Though some place the instrument's creation around 1570, an inscription of 1594 was recently discovered during its preservation.

Regardless, it fits with the time of Elizabeth's reign. The Queen was known to be an accomplished musician (much like her father), and was often heard playing the virginal. The virginal (sometimes referred to as the virginals) was a table top forerunner to the piano. It is very similar to the harpsichord, though much smaller. It can get a bit confusing as the terms virginal and harpsichord were interchanged and used to represent specific types of instruments as well as an entire family of keyboard/string instruments.

This particular virginal was elaborately decorated in a ornamental scratched pattern in red and blue enamel on gold. Though the article at the V&A does not mention it, I find that the symbol in the center of the virginal headboard (pictured above) looks quite a bit like Anne Boleyn's royal falcon. What think ye?
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