A Franco-Flemish double-manual harpsichord, originally a 'transposing' harpsichord made in Antwerp in 1617, possibly by Frans van Huffel.  It was given a bass ravalement in Paris in 1750 by François Étienne Blanchet and it was later given a treble ravalement in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann.



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


          There are clear 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 above it is possible that, perhaps towards the end of the seventeenth century or the beginning of the eighteenth century, a basic alteration was made to the instrument in which the keyboards were aligned to give both manuals a compass of  G1/B1 to c3 with 50 notes in the very first petit ravalement.  There is, however, now no direct evidence on the instrument for this putative alteration to the original state. 


State 2:

          Extensions to the present lower guides and registers indicate that it did once have a petit-ravalement compass of G1/B1 to d3 with 52 notes, which is two notes more than the aligned-compass of G1/B1 to c3.  The case was not altered in width so that to achieve this compass it was necessary to make the present upper and lower guides and possibly new keyboards (it is possible that two new top notes were added to the original keyboard, but no evidence now remains to confirm or refute this).  Subsequent alterations make it unclear as to 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 either, except that an embossed and gilt jackrail was incorporated into the instrument in the next stage. 


Click here to see an enlarged image of the jackrail 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 similar to the jackrail in its decoration (click here to see an image of the jackrail used as a brace inside the instrument).  This is indeed possible since the present length of this jackrail 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 this previous G1/B1 to d3 petit ravalement state.  If the 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 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.


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 present set of jacks was made and 3 of these jacks have the date 1750.  The construction of the jacks is identical with that of the jacks of the 1733 double-manual harpsichord by François Étienne Blanchet in the Château de Thoiry near Paris.  Even the axle pin for the tongue and the angle of the bottom of the tongue are both exactly the same in the two instruments.  The numbering of the jacks is also in the same hand as as that of the Thoiry Blanchet harpsichord.  There is therefore no doubt that the 1750 ravalement of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord was carried out by Blanchet.


Click here to see an image of the dated jacks


Some new registers were made and some of the old registers were extended to encompass the 6 extra bass notes.  The original lid, lid flap and front flap were extended to cover the widened case, and the instrument was given its present decoration and the internal lid painting (see the details above).  A new wrestplank with new nuts must also have been made at this stage to suit the new width and compass of the instrument.  It seems likely that a new set of keyboards and a new jackrail wre also 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 period some of the music being composed needed an harpsichord going up to f3 in the treble.

            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 notes.  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.


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


          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 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 - only the mouldings were gilded as 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.


State 4:

         When the instrument was restored in Rio de Janeiro in 1971 (see 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 François Étienne Blanchet, Pascal Taskin and Jean Goermans all at one time 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 and to have glued his calling card to the inside of the baseboard at that time.  However, his calling card was found on the baseboard in the state when it had a compass going up to f3, so that the treble ravalement can be at least partly assigned to Jacques Barberin.  It seems likely that the keyboards (unusual in a French instrument where the colours were reversed) 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 his daily business.  The Barberini ravalement involved extending the bridges and 4' hitchpin rail, the upper belly rail, wrestplank, baseboard, bentside, nameboard, jackrail and the lid to widen the case and all of the other components necessary. 

            The side of the lower belly rail facing into the keywell is signed: "[Re]fait par [N] Hoffman a Paris 1786".  So Hoffman also had a hand in the re-working of the instrument.  It is not now at all clear what Hoffman's contribution was and what Barberini's contribution was and indeed whether they were working on the instrument at the same time - or independently at different times.


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


The top 3 jacks now in each register (for e3, 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. 


Click here to see details of the altered cheek painting.


          It is also possible that the soundboard painting was removed and re-painted at this stage (although there are also arguments for its having been re-painted in the previous stage).  One of the lower braces of the internal framing has been painted as if it were a trial 'for the real thing' when the soundboard itself was repainted.  The style and quality of the painting on this brace probably represents that of the soundboard painting at this stage, or possibly of the next stage.


Click here to see a larger image of the internal painted braces


          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 1920's shows no sign of a genouillère and, indeed, because the stand with the genouillère cassette holding the knee-pommels themselves was lost in about 1890 or earlier, the only part of the genouillère that could have been removed was the internal trapwork mechanism.  It is crucial to note that there is no sign of the shadow or 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.  I know of no other genouillère made in this way.


Click here to see a typical genouillère system, 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.  This gives a long c2 length of 366mm with f1/f2 having lengths of 541mm/271mm = 20 pouce/10 pouce.  As such it would be suitable for tuning to a pitch of about a1= 395 to 405 Hz.


[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 eighteenth-century states of this harpsichord


 Details of the modern history of this harpsichord


 A problem encountered in the ethical restoration of this harpsichord


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


This page was last revised on 23 December 2017.

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