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.



Details of the original state of the instrument

          A careful examination of the instrument has revealed that it was originally a Flemish double-manual harpsichord, often called a 'transposing' harpsichord.  The rosette in the soundboard is identical to those normally found in the early instruments of Ioannes Ruckers.  But, despite the Ioannes ‘HR’ rose in the soundboard, there is a great deal of evidence which shows that this instrument was not made by any of the members of the Ruckers/Couchet family.  The rose itself appears to have been taken from a genuine Ioannes Ruckers instrument made in his early period before 1614, but this rosette does not fit into the hole in the soundboard into which it has been placed.  On the other hand both bridges retain their original bridge pinning, and an analysis of the lateral placement of the bridge pins shows that these were spaced relative to one another using simple numbers involving the Antwerp duim (inch) and voet (foot).  In addition empty holes in the soundboard for the 4' hitchpins and on the 4' bridge for the bridge pins indicate that there were the usual doubled pairs of strings for the e/g notes normally found on double-manual Flemish harpsichords (see the diagram of the keyboards a normal Flemish 'transposing' double-manual harpsichord shown below). 



Schematic representation of the keyboards of a normal Flemish 'transposing' harpsichord.

The upper manual has a block in the bass and a compass of C/E to c3 at normal pitch.

The lower manual has a compass of C/E to f3 at a pitch a fourth lower than the upper manual.

The 3 triangles at the top represent the 3 original pairs of bridge pins and hitchpins for the e/g notes, all of which are still clearly evident on the 4' bridge and 4' hitchpin rail.


          On this model of harpsichord there are the three sets of doubled 4' bridge pins and hitchpins, each spaced from one another by an octave (12 notes) of strings as in the diagram above (the original doubled 8' bridge and hitchpins have been disguised by the addition of a second set of 8' strings).  Therefore it is clear both from the relative string spacing and from the paired e/g notes that this instrument was originally a Flemish 'transposing' double-manual harpsichord with the usual upper-manual compass of C/E to c3 (short- octave bass) at normal pitch, and the lower manual had the normal C/E to f3 bass short-octave compass and was pitched a fourth lower as in the diagram above.

           In addition, a study of the measurements of the instrument and the lateral spacings of the 8' and 4' bridge pins shows that it was designed and made in Antwerp using the Antwerp units of measurement the voet (foot) and duim (inch).  No other country or city North of the Alps used the same unit of measurement found to have been used to make this instrument, so it can be assigned to Antwerp with a very high degree of certainty, not only because it uses the Antwerp duim and voet in its design and construction, but also because of the many characteristics it bears of the usual Antwerp construction style.  However, although it is clearly an instrument made in Antwerp, many of the features of the instrument are completely different from those of a normal Ruckers double-manual instrument and, indeed, the way that the unit of measurement was used to design the lateral string spacing and the division of the keyboard spacings was also different.  The instrument cannot therefore be attributed to any of the members of the Ruckers family who were also active in Antwerp in 1617 when this instrument was made.


            When it still retained its original soundboard painting, this harpsichord was once dated 1617, and there is no reason now to doubt that this is, indeed, the original date of construction.  1617 is some 60 years after the association of the Antwerp harpsichord builders in 1557 as a separate entity within the Guild of St Luke. It is therefore unlikely that any of the original harpsichord makers who joined the Guild in 1557 was responsible for the construction of this harpsichord. But if the maker of this instrument was, say 40 years old when he made it, he might have joined the Guild when he was about 20 (this is about the age of both Ioannes and Andreas Ruckers when they became members of the Guild), and so he might have joined in 1597 when he was 20.  However, in the Liggeren[1] or the archival records of the Guild of St Luke, there is not a single mention of any harpsichord builders in the period between 1589 and 1609. And even between 1609 and 1617, only 3 non-Ruckers harpsichord makers are mentioned. From the only makers listed in the Liggeren (from the details given in the Liggeren it would seem that the maker of this harpsichord might be one of the following 3 makers:  Francoys van Uffel, Renier Leunis or van Lenart/Lenaert. The maker Frans van Huffel, clearly a variant spelling of Francoys van Uffel, is known from a harpsichord built in the Flemish style that was once in the Berlin Collection but was destroyed in World War II. This harpsichord was dated 1620, only 3 years after the date of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord. It had a soundboard rosette with the initials FVH or F[rans] V[an] H[uffel]. Was Frans van Huffel the maker of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord? Was it an FVH rosette that was removed from the soundboard and replaced with the present Ioannes Ruckers rosette which is too small for the hole in the soundboard? Frans van Huffel is known to have been active from 1609, when he joined the Guild, to 1626, a period straddling the date of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord.  If Frans van Huffel was the original maker of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord, he would have had 11 years of experience behind him when he made the instrument.
          Signed instruments by any of the non-Ruckers Antwerp clavecimbel (harpsichord) makers from this period are extremely rare.  However, if it can be shown from old photographs that the rosette in the van Huffel harpsichord was the same size as the hole in the soundboard of this instrument, it make it highly likely that van Huffel is the original maker. Time did not permit a further in-depth investigation of this aspect of the history of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord. However, this is but one of the many important aspects of this harpsichord: it has decorations attributed to some of the most famous eighteenth-century painters and decorators, it has a ravalement carried out in 1750 by Francois Blanchet the facteur des clavecins du roi and one of the greatest Parisian harpsichord makers and it has a stunningly impressive sound.  And it also played a highly-important role in the history of the modern revival of interest in the harpsichord.  These facts make this one of the most important Franco-Flemish harpsichords in the entire history of harpsichord making in Europe.

This instrument is therefore an extremely rare and unusual example of a Flemish non-Ruckers double-manual 'transposing' harpsichord made in Antwerp.  There are only a very, very few other surviving seventeenth-century Flemish non-Ruckers double-manual harpsichords, and this is probably the only one for which the original maker can be stated with some certainty!


[1]  See:  Ph. Romouts and Th. van Lerius, De liggeren en andere historische archieven der Antwerpsche Sint Lucasgilde, 2 Vols., (Antwerp/The Hague, 1872-76; facsimile, Amsterdam, 1961)


Important Features of this harpsichord


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


Details of the eighteenth-century states of this harpsichord


 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 05 January 2023.