The sixteenth-century basse de violon: fact or fiction? Identification of the bass violin (1535-1635). Page: 15
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extremely problematic. Points of contention include the terminological confusion, the existence
of descriptions and depictions that do not match each other, the general lack of comprehensive
discussions of violins, and, above all, the absolute lack of an illustration of the four-stringed bass
violin in a treatise prior to 1635.
No sixteenth-century treatise provides an illustration of a bass violin that matches
Gaudenzio Ferrari's image (Saronno Cathedral, 1535), which is the earliest known
iconographical representation of the instrument. Sebastian Virdung, Giovanni Maria Lanfranco,
Ludovico Zacconi, and Silvestro Ganassi do not depict bass violins.
Hans Gerle describes bass violins but illustrates rebecs.48 Martin Agricola discusses a bass
violin with four strings but draws a fiddle with three strings.49 Michael Praetorius introduces the
four-stringed bass violin in writing, but shows a five-stringed instrument only.50 Aurelio
Virgiliano's II Dolcimelo in 1600 represents the best example of these confusing and imprecise
illustrations of bass violins. The author draws a bass violin as the member of the violini, but the
illustration is identical to that of his bass viol.51
Writers also distinguish the types by their different roles in society rather than by their
construction only. Jambe de Fer, our first reliable source for the distinction between viols and
violins, reports on the different construction of the two types. However, he gives a single
illustration for both viols and violins (Fig. 2.6).52 He states that "the violin resembles the viol
Hans Gerle, Musica Teusch 1532, Trans. Gordon J. Kinney (M.I. King Library, Lexington: University of
Kentucky, 1977), text-fiche, Plate vi.
Agricola, op. cit., 51-2 and 108-9.
Praetorius, op. cit., Plate xxi.
Virgiliano, op. cit., 47.
See chapter 1.
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Erodi, Gyongy Iren. The sixteenth-century basse de violon: fact or fiction? Identification of the bass violin (1535-1635)., thesis, August 2009; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc12121/m1/23/: accessed January 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .