The Bruegel Guitar (and Vihuela) – pt.2

As you could read in the first episode of this journey. I took the task of making a guitar after “The Fight between Carnival and Lent” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1559) Let’s take a closer look at the guitar in the painting.


A few things are different from other renaissance guitars.

The neck is very long, even longer than half of the string length. But this is not the most striking feature. When we look at the pegbox we see that it’s quite small and holds only five pegs.

Strange, because all other renaissance guitars we know from iconography (none of the instruments have survived), show seven or eight strings, in four courses. Like this model on the title page of the book of Guillaume Morlaye.

But the Bruegel guitar only has room for five strings.

What would the disposition have been?

Alonso Mudarra describes in his vihuela book 0f 1546, the guitar as having ten frets and a bordón (thicker string) on the fourth course.

Other sources that describe the tuning of the guitar, show the first three courses were unison, while the lowest course was tuned in an octave. With two possible tunings, the old (temple viejos) and the new (temple nuevos).

It got me thinking; was this perhaps a depiction of an earlier type of guitar? A medieval ancestor of the renaissance guitar, with three single strings and a bourdon on the lowest course? After all as a painter in the Spanish Netherlands of the 16th century, Bruegel still stood with one foot in the middle ages.

So I started to work after the painting. Cracking the outline and translating it into a playable instrument.

The Warwick Castle Citole

Gittern by Hans Ott

To represent medieval instruments – like the Warwick Castle Citole or the Gitterns by Hans Ott and from an archaeological find in Elblag, Germany – I decided to make these instruments in a ‘monoxyle construction. The body was carved from one block of wood, and a serperate soundboard and fingerboard were added.

For these prototypes I used oak, salvaged from a church in Utrecht. The choice for this wood may seem a bit strange, but oak was the number one material for furniture in Antwerp in those days.

Most builders I know regard Oak and Beech woods that are only suitable for furniture, and look upon them with a certain distain. But I just wanted to try it, especially because it’s regarded a second rate or inferior wood.

Renaissance guitars

The body of the Bruegel guitar (left) next to two models of the Morlaye guitar.

After the body was cut and hollowed out, the soundboard could be glued on.

Bruegel 2

A nice gesture of Bruegel was that I didn’t have far to look for inspiration for the rosette…

Bruegel Rose

In the next episode we will look into the construction of the vihuela.

To be continued…

This entry was posted in History, Projects, Research and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.