This bass viola da gamba was made by Barak Norman in London, in 1718. It is made of a Table of spruce, back of maple in two pieces cut on 45o with irregular medium-fine horizontal figure; ribs (lined with linen) of similar maple with elaborate purfling, original plain maple neck (and fingerboard), with ornamental carved pegbox and carved male head, and transparent reddish-brown varnish. This instrument has an original printed label:
at the Bafs Violin
St Pauls Church=y.
(on the soundpost bar of the back, and the brand stamp):
(within the table ornament beneath and below the fingerboard).
Barak Norman (ca. 1670-1740) is regarded as one of the most important early English makers, well known for his output of magnificent viols. Probably a pupil of Thomas Urquhart, Norman also built violins, violas, and cellos, usually derived from the stylistic school of Jacob Stainer. By the time he had built this viol in 1718, Norman had formed a partnership with Nathanial Cross. Several instruments of their joint construction have been documented.
This instrument was formerly the property of Miss Mabel Chaplin of London, a member of the celebrated Chaplin Trio who specialized in performance of early music. According to W. E. Hill & Sons, “They made their first appearance at the South Place Sunday Concerts in 1888. Her sister, Kate, violinist and viola d’amore player, was a pupil of Ysaye and had the honor, at the age of eighteen, of playing to Queen Victoria, and together with Miss Nellie Chaplin, pianist and harpsichord player, completed this talented trio.” It is from the heirs of this family, through Hill’s, that the viol came to the Smithsonian.
Typical for Barak Norman instruments, this bass viol is rich in elaborate ornamental purfling on the table, back, ribs, neck and pegbox. Designs like the “flower” purfling in the back are similar to those used by 17th century Brescian makers. The central ornament of the back bears the florid letters BN which can be seen from the sides as a “mirror” ornament. The table ornament beneath and below the fingerboard in flower motif is similarly found in carvings on the sides and back of the pegbox, neck-foot and button of the back. The typical double purfling on table and back complements these ornaments as well as the elaborate geometric rib purfling. The instrument retains the original neck with pegbox and expressively carved male head, fingerboard veneered with ebony and ornamental ivory inlay, and a similar contemporary tailpiece. Interior features include the original soundpost bar and bass-bar.
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