A Franco-Flemish double-manual harpsichord, originally a 'transposing' harpsichord made in Antwerp in 1617 by an unknown maker.  It was given a bass ravalement in Paris sometime between 1742 and 1750.  Then it received a major alteration when it was lavishly decorated and given a treble ravalement in 1750 by François Étienne Blanchet, in Paris.  Later is was given a treble ravalement in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann, also in Paris.



Some details of the eighteenth-century states of this harpsichord.


          There are unambiguous indications that the original seventeenth-century Flemish instrument was enlarged in the eighteenth century to convert it into the standard model 'grand ravalement' 5-octave instrument.  However, this transformation took place in several stages in different periods two of which can be dated to 1750 and 1786.  As mentioned in the section on the brief history, it is possible that, perhaps towards the end of the seventeenth century or the beginning of the eighteenth century, the keyboards of the instrument were aligned to give both manuals a compass of  G1/B1 to c3 with 50 notes in an initial petit ravalement, although there is now no direct evidence on the instrument that this actually happened. 


State 2:

          Examination of the lower guides and registers indicates that the Franco-Flemish harpsichord must once have a petit-ravalement compass of G1/B1 to d3 with 52 notes.  To achieve this it was necessary to make new upper and lower guides and possibly new keyboards (it is, of course, possible that two notes were simply added to the treble side of the original keyboard for c#3 and d3).  The guides that were made for this state survive to the present day and it is these guides that provide the evidence for all of the later musical states.  However, although the number of notes, and therefore the likely compass is clear, subsequent alterations make it unclear what the disposition was at this stage and indeed even whether a second set of 8' strings was added.  There is now no indication of what the decoration was like at this stage except that an embossed and gilt jackrail was incorporated into the instrument in the next stage. 

Click here to see details of the jackrail used as an internal brace


If this jackrail was made for the instrument in the G1/B1 to d3 stage then it is likely that the rest of the instrument was similarly decorated.  This is indeed possible since the present length of this jackrail used as a brace is 678mm, whereas the width of a G1/B1 to c3 Flemish double-manual harpsichord would be expected to be about 761mm.  One end of this jackrail has, from the position of the nails which originally held the jackrail cloth in place, been shortened somewhat, so this jackrail it quite likely that from the G1/B1 to d3 petit ravalement state.  If this jackrail did indeed belong to the instrument at this stage with a case not yet widened, it would have been too short for the case after it had been widened at the bass side in the next stage and as such was useless as a jackrail.  It appears that it was therefore simply re-used as an internal brace in the widened instrument.   There seems no other indication of what the decoration was like in the petit ravalement G1/B1 to d3 state.  However, this sort of pragmatic approach to wood and parts is typical of the workmanship of François Étienne Blanchet and is but one indication that Blanchet was responsible for the 1750 ravalement of this harpsichord.


Click here to see a image of the interior of the instrument showing the gilt jackrail used as a brace,

perhaps belonging to the instrument when it had a compass of G1/B1 to d3.


State 3:

         In 1750 the case was enlarged and it was given the compass F1 to d3 adding 6 more notes below B1.  The case was widened by lengthening the tail and making a new, slightly longer, spine side, the 4' h.p.r. was extended at the bass end and, of course, the internal bracing was replaced and lengthened as was the nameboard and wrestplank.  The baseboard was lost in the disastrous restoration of the instrument in 1970 (see the last section of The Modern History of the Harpsichord) and so it is not known if the Blanchet baseboard survived to this date, or whether it was replaced with a new baseboard in 1786 by Barberini/Hoffman (see State 4 below).  The present set of jacks was made and 3 of these jacks have survived with the date 1750. 


Click here to see an image of the dated jacks


Most of the old registers were re-used by extending them to encompass the 6 extra bass notes.  These extensions are expertly made, and clearly visible on both the upper registers and the lower guides.   The original lid, lid flap and front flap were extended to cover the widened case, and the instrument was given its present outer decoration and the internal lid painting (see the details above).  It seems likely that a new set of keyboards and a new jackrail was made at this stage.  It is not known if the baseboard and wrestplank were renewed or simply extended on the spine side, but the upper belly rail shows clear signs of being extended at the spine/bass end.

            With two keyboards and a compass of F1 to d3, the instrument would have been able to play a large part of the music of the period around 1750, although even at this time much of the music being composed needed a harpsichord going up to f3 in the treble.

          The decorative state at this stage is known with some degree of certainty.  The outside of the case would have been decorated with the splendid gold vernis martin decoration with the Boucher paintings on the top of the outside of the lid still visible on the instrument today.  The inside of the lid was decorated with the same pastoral scene also still visible today.  The only major difference in the decoration is that of the keywell and soundwell.  A test scraping on the inside of the case above the soundboard (the soundwell) shows that at this stage this part was painted a light sky blue without any garlands or vinework on top of it.  Tests showed that only the mouldings were gilded as is usual.  The same blue paint is visible at the lower edges of the sides of the keywell, so it is likely that the sides of the keywell and the nameboard were also painted light blue at this stage as well.  Because the nameboard itself was replaced in the next stage, there is no way of telling how it was decorated and, without doing extensive scraping on the sides of the keywell cheeks, the decoration there is also unknown at this stage.

          It is also possible that the original 1617 Flemish soundboard painting was removed and re-painted at this stage.  One of the lower braces of the internal framing has been painted as if it were a trial used by the soundboard decorator to get his hand in before attempting to paint the soundboard itself.  The style and quality of the painting on this brace clearly represents that of François Étienne Blanchet's usual soundboard painter. 


Click here to see a larger image of the internal painted brace along with the attribution of this unusual sample of decoration to Blanchet's usual painter and decorator


            Critically, the soundboard had to be widened along the spine side, and the soundboard bridges had to be lengthened to take the strings of the added bass notes.  The cutout in the extension to the bass end of the 8' bridge can be seen below:


The cutout in the extension to the 8' bridge


          In the process of widening the soundboard, the join between the new and the old soundboard wood was reinforced with parchment strips glued along the join underneath the soundboard.  This parchment must, however, have been added at the time of the 1786 ravalement by Barberini and Hoffman as a kind of 'belt and braces' insurance to prevent the Blanchet join in the soundboard from opening out at a later stage.


Click here to read the writing on the most complete of the remaining parchment strips.


State 4:

         When the instrument was restored in Rio de Janeiro in 1971 (see the last part of the modern history section) the repairman Roberto de Regina found the calling card of Jacques (Giuseppe?) Barberini inside the instrument.   Jacques Barberini is known from numerous archival references to have been a harpsichord builder and seller of English fortepianos who worked in Paris during the latter part of the eighteenth century.  He is almost certainly the Jacques Barberini who worked in the Rue de la Verrerie, the same street in which both Pascal Taskin and Jean Goermans had their workshops[1].  Barberini entered the Guild of the joiner/instrument builders in 1783, but is known as early as 1770 as having been responsible for the selling of English pianos.  He is referred to by Constant Pierre[2] when mentioning makers who joined the Paris harpsichord makers’ guild after 1775:


"De 1783 a 1788: Jacques Barberini, rue de la Verrerie (1783-91), ou il tenait des forte-piano anglais des meilleurs auteurs."

"From 1783 to 1788:  Jacques Barberini, rue de la Verrerie (1783-91), where he sells English fortepianos of the best makers."


Because Barberini did not enter the guild until 1783 it is impossible for him to have been the one who carried out the first grand ravalement in 1750.  However, since his calling card was found on the baseboard of the instrument after it was widened to encompass the notes up to f3, the treble ravalement can be assigned to Jacques Barberini with some degree of certainty.  It seems likely that the keyboards with their white ivory naturals and black ebony sharps can also be attributed to Barberini who would have been familiar with this keyboard configuration from the English instruments he sold through is business (normally it would have been expected in the French tradition that the instrument should have the black ebony naturals and white bone-topped sharps which are almost universal on French eighteenth-century harpsichords).  The Barberini ravalement involved extending the bridges and 4' hitchpin rail, the upper belly rail, the wrestplank, baseboard, bentside, nameboard, jackrail, the front lockboard and the lid to widen the case and all of the other components necessary. 

Click here to see how the painting of the lid flap was extended at the top in the Barberini ravalement


The top 3 jacks now in each register (for eb3, e3 and f3) are all clearly by a different hand from those from the earlier 1750 state with a compass of F1 to d3.  This would seem to indicate that the top 3 jacks were added in this alteration to give it the full 5-octave compass reaching to f3 in the treble.  The registers were also extended at the treble end (in addition to the Blanchet extension at the bass end) to allow space for the additional 3 notes


Click here to see details of the altered cheek painting.


          The decorative state at this stage is basically the same as it is today except for the keywell and soundwell.  The light blue soundwell, the front and back of the nameboard and the keywell were all gilded with bronze powder.  The use of bronze powder is not surprising:  tests done on the instruments at the Russell Collection by myself and Jim Tait of the National Museums of Scotland laboratory showed that the only genuine gold used to decorate the Russell Collection instruments was on the soundboard rosettes of the Ruckers instruments.  Indeed all of the French, German and Italian instruments used bronze powder where one might otherwise have expected gold leaf.  The new nameboard was also decorated on both sides with bronze powder as were the inside cheeks of the soundwell.  None of these surfaces appears to have been decorated with garlands, flowers, vinework or any of the other decoration usual on late eighteenth-century French harpsichords.


Click here to see an image of the rear of the nameboard


Stage 4:

          The previous owners reported that, among the other work carried out by Roberto de Regina in Buenos Aires in 1970, was the removal of a genouillère mechanism.  Since the photograph of the instrument taken in the 1927 shows no sign of a genouillère and, indeed, because the stand with the genouillère cassette holding the knee-pommels themselves was lost at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth century, the only part of the genouillère that could have been removed was the internal trapwork mechanism.  Was this genouillère removed by Arnold Dolmetsch as he had also done with the genouillère of the 1764/83 Goermans/Taskin in the Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments in Edinburgh?  It is crucial to note that there is no sign of the shadow or of any screw holes of any external rocker bars on the spine side of the instrument[3] as found on the numerous instruments re-worked by Taskin and Swanen to give them a genouillère at the end of the eighteenth century.  Therefore the genouillère on this harpsichord was different from the usual in that it was all internal with no external parts whatsoever.  It seems to have been unique to this instrument:  I know of no other genouillère made in this way.  The lost of this unique genouillère as a result of uniformed restoration practices in the modern period must be considered a tragic lost of interesting and historically highly important information.


Click here to see a typical genouillère mechanism, quite different from that which must originally have existed on the Franco-Flemish harpsichord.


            The final alteration in the historical period therefore appears to have been the addition of a genouillère, possibly with the addition of a fourth peau de buffle register and row of jacks, although this may already have been added by Barberini in the previous stage.  The front surface of the lower belly rail facing towards the front of the instrument is signed 'Refait par [N] Hoffman a Paris 1786' in cursive script, possibly written in silver point.  It therefore seems highly likely that Hoffman was responsible for the genouillère and, perhaps also for the peau de buffle register if it did not already exist.  Unfortunately I know of no instruments built or altered by Nicolas Hoffman which have survived and which might have been used to re-construct the unusual type of genouillère mechanism which this instrument must have had. 

             In the last eighteenth-century state the instrument would have had four registers with the extra ‘peau de buffle’ register at the rear of the gap.  This register was fitted with soft leather plectra instead of bird quill.  This would have been used in conjunction with the 'genouillère' (knee-lever) for changing the registration.  The genouillère would normally have been capable of withdrawing one register at a time to give a gradual diminuendo to the solo peau de buffle, and of slowly re-inserting the registers again one at a time to give a crescendo to a full plein jeu with all of the registers engaged. 

             The strings scalings given to the instrument in the present restoration are normal for an eighteenth-century French harpsichord and are such that each of the f strings in the tenor and treble part of the compass has a length equal to a simple number of French pouce (it was the long 8' f strings and not the long 8' c strings that were used as the basis the design of the string scalings by most French eighteenth-century harpsichord builders).  This gives a long 8' c2 length of 366mm with f1/f2 having lengths of 541mm/271mm = 20 pouce/10 pouce.  These are, in fact, the f scalings found on a number of the instruments of Blanchet as well as on instruments by Taskin, Goermans, Hemsch, De De Ban, etc.  As such it would be suitable for tuning to a pitch of about a1= 395 to 405 Hz., or even to a1= 415.3 Hz, a semitone below modern pitch (depending of course on the strength of the iron wire being used as a stringing material).


[1] See Colombe Samoyault-Verlet, Les facteurs de clavecins parisiens.  Notices biographiques et documents (1550-1793), (Heugel et Cie, Paris, 1966) p. 14.

[2] Constant Pierre, Les Facteurs d'instruments de musique, les luthiers et la facture instrumentale, précis historique (Paris: Sagot, 1893; ; reprint Minkoff, Geneva, 1970), pp. 134-5.  He refers to makers who joined the Paris harpsichord makers’ guild after 1775.

[2] See Figure 5 in Plate XIV in Frank Hubbard, Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making, (Cambridge, Mass., 1965).


Important Features of this harpsichord


A brief history of the musical and decorative states of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord


Details of the original state of the instrument


 Details of the modern history of this harpsichord


Problems encountered in the ethical restoration of this harpsichord


 The attributions of the 1750 state to  François Étienne Blanchet, Christophe Huet and François Boucher


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This page was last revised on 20 November 2021.