G R A N T    O B R I E N


Harpsichords, Virginals, Spinets and Clavichords

Restorations and Consultations


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The stunningly-beautiful Franco-Flemish antique harpsichord harpsichord pictured above is for sale.


          This harpsichord was originally built in Antwerp in 1617 but, although the date is known, the original maker is unknown.  It was originally a double-manual harpsichord with two keyboard at pitches a fourth apart, and it had the usual disposition of 1x8', 1x4' with 4 registers - two for each keyboard.  Although it has a genuine early Ioannes Ruckers soundboard rosette,  analysis of the structure and design of the instrument shows that it was not made by any of the members of the Ruckers family.  The soundboard rosette, as so often happened in instruments subjected to a ravalement, came from a genuine instrument by Ioannes Ruckers, and was fraudulently placed in the soundboard of this instrument, probably to increase its value in a later period. 

          Before it was subjected to a major ravalement in 1750, it was given an intermediate petit ravalement at an unknown date.  This involved aligning the keyboards, adding a top d3, and probably adding an extra string to give it a 2x8', 1x8' disposition.  It was then mis a ravalement in Paris in 1750 by François Étienne Blanchet who extended the compass downwards to F1.  But it was then later subjected to a further ravalement in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann who extended the treble compass to f3, and probably added a genouillère and an additional row of peau de buffle jacks

          It is therefore now a classic French double-manual harpsichord with a full 5-octave compass of F1 to f3, and a disposition with 2 x 8', 1 x 4' and a peau de buffle set of jacks, making up altogether a full four registers.  It has a stunningly-beautiful decoration with an outer case decorated in gold vernis martin with case and lid figure-paintings attributed to the circle of François Boucher (1703 - 1770).  These figure paintings are surrounded by creative,  ingenious ornaments full of inventive imagination.  These stunningly beautiful ornaments can be positively attributed to Christophe II Huet (1700 - 1759).

          The stand is carved and gilt in a French Rococo style.  It is must, however, belong to the 1786 ravalement state since it has never been widened to accommodate the additions to the case to take the compass up to f3.  Despite its late date it is in an outdated Louis XV style so that it matches the style of its case decoration and ornaments.  On the other hand, it does subtly include elements typical of the later Louis XVI style so would not have been completely out of date in 1786.

          Instruments by any of the non-Ruckers Antwerp clavecimbel makers from this period are extremely rare.  It is very unusual for such non-Ruckers instrument to survive and even rarer for them to have been given such a lavish decoration.

            Among the many important aspects of this harpsichord are the following: 

  •  it has figure paintings on the outside of the lid attributed to the circle of François Bouchet

  • the decorations around the figure paintings are positively attributed to Christophe II Huet

  • it has a ravalement carried out in 1750 by François Étienne Blanchet the facteur des clavecins du roi and one of the greatest Parisian harpsichord makers

  • the sound of the instrument is stunning and impressive, and matches an equally striking appearance

  • the instrument has played a highly-important role in the history of the modern revival of interest in the harpsichord 

          The sound is pure, full, rich and evenly-balanced across the whole compass of the instrument.  It creates an impression of immense power and opulence.  The sound has made a lasting impression on everyone who has heard or played the instrument.  It is, without a doubt, one of the finest and most beautiful examples of 18th-century French harpsichord decoration and building.

          The above facts make this one of the most important Franco-Flemish harpsichords and certainly one of the most striking harpsichords to come out of any Parisian eighteenth-century workshop in the entire history of harpsichord-making in Europe.


RUCKERS.  A harpsichord and virginal building tradition

(click here)

by Grant O'Brien.

Re-published as a digital reprint  by Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Buy a signed copy with a personal dedication (click here).

Flemish papers for sale (click here)

Full-scale harpsichord, virginal and stand drawings for harpsichords and virginals are available for sale (click here)

Harpsichord-making woods for sale


A small amount of the important woods normally used by harpsichord makers is available for sale.  This is all very well-seasoned and of the highest quality available.

The types of wood include accurately-quartered Italian spruce soundboard wood.  This soundboard wood is sold only in flitches of about 6 to 15 planks.  Each flitch is a succession of slices from the same tree, and these can be used (as most Flemish and French makers did) to make a soundboard that is perfectly uniform in colour and texture because it is all of exactly the same wood for the whole of the soundboard.

Also available is knot-free Italian cypress from Tuscany (cipresso netto) and genuine African ebony (Diospyros crassiflora). 

All of this wood was bought as air-dried, and is now more than 40 years old.

For further details of quantities and prices please see the woods section of this site.



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Web design by Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2019.                 Web pages last up-dated:  Sunday August 11, 2019

©Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2019