Case 2. Book Illustrations

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Sebastian Virdung (b. ? Amberg, ca. 1465; d. ca. 1512)
Musica getutscht.

Basel, 1511. Facsimile: Kassel, Barenreiter, 1931.
Quarter morocco binding by Frederick R. and Patricia Bakwin Selch.

Virdung's work, the earliest printed treatise on musical instruments, inspired Frederick R. Selch's book collection. It is an illustrated instrumentarium of ancient and current instruments. Written in German and arranged in two organological categories - haut, or loud instruments heard mostly outdoors, and bas, or soft indoor instruments - this practical book also offers instructions on the rudiments of music, and how to play clavichord, lute and recorder.
Of the few surviving originals, all belong to institutions. Boston Public Library owns the only original copy in the United States; it is also the only one extant with woodcuts hand-colored at the time of publication.


Ottomar Luscinius (b. Strasbourg, 1478-80; d. Freiburg, 1537).
Musurgia seu Praxis Musicae. First edition.

Strasbourg: Johannes Schott, 1536.
Full morocco binding by F.R. and P.B. Selch.

Virdung's treatise, written in vernacular German, was so successful that Italian booksellers wanted to disseminate it in Latin, an international language. They engaged the highly respected humanist Luscinius to translate the landmark work. Luscinius created a more comprehensive volume and a better classification of instruments. He had Virdung's actual woodcuts copied exactly for his scholarly Latin expansion. He also corrected captions and added two more parts that Virdung had been unable to publish for lack of support: one on mensural notation, another on composing polyphony. Although Luscinius completed his work about 1517, it was not published until 1536.


Martin Agricola (b. 1486; d. 1556).

Musica instrumentalis Deudsch.
Wittenberg: Georg Rhaw, 1529.

Full morocco binding by F.R. and P.B. Selch.

Chronologically (based on its colophon), this is the second volume published on musical instruments (but it is actually the third: Luscinius had, in fact, finished his in 1517 but it wasn't printed until 1536).
In this volume Agricola reworked Virdung in doggerel vernacular verse for easy memorization and issued it in small format. Living in what is now Northern Germany, Agricola's intent was to realize Luther's mission to make music a central part of Protestant teaching. Agricola illustrated his work with copies of Luscinius's woodcuts in reduced size befitting the smaller volume. They are in mirror image to Luscinius and placed in slightly different page layouts. When cutting, the artist followed Luscinius's designs; when printed, the images are reversed and their orientation corrected in agreement with Virdung: e.g., longer strings or pipes on keyboards are on the left.


Christopher Simpson (b. ? Edton, N. Yorkshire 1602-6; d. London 1669).
The Division-Violist: or, an Introduction to the Playing upon a Ground. First edition.
London: William Godbid for John Playford, 1659.
Contemporary gilt-stamped paneled sheep. Selch Collection.

Christopher Simpson

Chelys, minuritionum artificio exornata: the Division-Viol, or the Art of Playing Ex tempore upon a Ground. Second edition, second state.
London: W. Godbid for Henry Brome, 1667.
Contemporary blind-stamped paneled sheep. Goodkind Collection.

The most important English work on viola da gamba, it describes the slightly smaller bass viola da gamba needed to play more technically challenging "divisions" or improvisations. Examples are provided.
As is seen in the first edition, the player dons a hat. Because of the demand for reprinting this work, the plate wore. In the second edition, the hat is but an aura; it has been removed and replaced by the player's full wig. The second edition adds a Latin text as well as the English "to make it useful at home as well as abroad."


Angelo Roccha [Bishop of Tagasti] (b. 1545; d. 1620)
De Campanis Commentarius. First edition.

Rome: Guglielmo Facciotti, 1612.

This image of the carillon and its player was so popular it was reproduced in other publications. Two other versions of it can be seen in this exhibition. The second one chronologically is Mersenne's (1636-7), which appears in both his French and Latin editions of Harmonie Universelle /Harmonicorum Libri. Buonanni's version contains the third version (in Gabinetto armonico, 1722—see Case 3).
Without knowing the dates of publications for each, one can discern their chronological order from the direction each player faces, given that an engraver copies what he sees and when it is printed, the image appears in reverse. Roccha's original player faces the viewer's left; Mersenne's player faces right; and the player in Buonanni—whose engraver copied the well-known Mersenne version—faces left.
Note also the costumes, fashionably contemporary with the publications. Roccha's bearded player's jacket is a Mannerist, shield-like, tight-fitting, sleeveless jerkin, probably leather, worn over a doublet (shirt) looking Bronzino-like; Mersenne's player wears a leather skull cap, collar and a more comfortable, early Baroque short jacket ending in a tabbed 'skirt', with breeches. Buonanni's player almost a century later is in a three-quarter-length justaucorps (jacket) with breeches and a long, formal powdered wig.
The types of bells sounded in Roccha's volume include fold-outs of bells rung by hand with ropes and the famous automatic clock in St. Mark's Square, Venice. (Notice the ghost image of the preceding page also illustrating bells and ropes). Roccha's scholarly discussion of bells covers their diversity, history, consecration and care, how they function in church liturgy and rites, the bell ringer's responsibilities, as well as their secular uses such as signaling and time-keeping.

Marin Mersenne, Order of Minim (1588—1648).
Harminicorum Libri.

Paris: Sebastien Cramoisy, 1636/37.
Full morocco paneled in gilt.

Mersenne reproduced Roccha's carillon image, using it in both his French and Latin versions of this landmark treatise on musical instruments. (Note that Dr. Selch owned copies of both versions; for the French version, see Case 1.)


Last updated:
June 18, 2016