Italian Virginal

Description (Brief)
This harpsichord was made by an unknown maker in Italy, around the last quarter of 17th century. It is a polygonal virginal with a compass of C/E - f3, and a disposition of 1 x 8’. This instrument has a cypress soundboard, and boxwood naturals and ebony accidentals. The soundboard is inscribed: “VITA BREVIS ARS LONGA” (life is short, art is long). The outer edge and jack rail are decorated with ivory studs. The soundboard contains a 3-1/8” diameter parchment rose.
The separable outer case is painted black with arabesques in gold paint. The interior of the lid is painted with a cartouche in the center with a tree, flanked by two standing figures holding plant stalks, two figures seated on swans, and two winged figures at the sides. Research indicates that the painted surfaces could be original to the period with some over painting. The harpsichord has a table stand with six turned legs attached to a base, probably not original to the instrument.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
paint (overall material)
metal (overall material)
instrument: 8 3/4 in x 64 5/8 in x 1575 in; 22.225 cm x 164.1475 cm x 4000.5 cm
place made
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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