Anonymous cittern - Low Countries or France(?), end of the 17th century(?)
Paris, Musée de la Musique, on loan from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

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Photo: © Jean-Marc Anglès

Photo: © Jean-Marc Anglès

Photo: © Jean-Marc Anglès
General Description

This cittern appears to be a large version of the Franco-Flemish constructed citterns. It possesses a pegbox with 12 peg holes, surmounted by a carved head of a bearded man. The fretting is diatonic. Instead of hitch-pins, it uses a string comb for anchoring the strings at the base of the instrument. The decoration is restrained, with double purfling on the soundboard, inked purfling lines on the fingerboard, purfling lines on the sides, and three geometric designs in purfling on the back.

Provenance / Maker
There is no maker's label. In their article on citterns in French public collections, Dugot and Gétreau suggest that this instrument "was used outside Italy and probably by a non-professional" based on inked labels on the fingerboard (see Neck and Fingerboard, below).1

A full analysis of the woods is yet to be done, however a preliminary identification of the woods is as follows:2

Back: maple
Sides: maple
Soundboard: coniferwood (probably spruce)
Neck and head: maple
Fingerboard: maple
String holder/comb: ???
Fret "wedges": ???


maximum length: 983 mm
string length: 625 mm
maximum width: 330 mm

rose diameter: 73 mm

maximum depth: 68 mm
minimum depth: 36 mm

maximum width of neck: 43.5 mm
minimum width of neck: 43 mm

X-ray imaging of the front shows three main bars reinforcing the soudboard: one each immediately above and below the rose, and the last one in the lower bout, a little less than at maximum width. All three bars run the full width of the soundboard.

Fig. 16, MKB 66, p. 63

The wood and parchment rose is relatively plain. The x-ray image of the front appears to show three small lateral braces reinforcing the rose.

Dugot and Gétreau suggest that the back is "strongly warped" from the "inconsistent suppression of the back reinforcements."4

The pegbox has holes for twelve pegs (missing) and is surmounted by the carved head of a man with a beard. In the pegbox near the nut there are also two longitudinal holes, which may have been used for "drone" strings (see Stringing, below).

Peter Forrester points out that holes 11 and 12 appear to be closer together than the other holes, which suggests that hole 12 may be a later addition.5

Neck and Fingerboard

The fingerboard is labeled in two ways:

  1. Black inked letters to the left of each fret corresponding to the letters used in French tablature.6
  2. Gilded paint to the right of each fret indicating the names of the notes in each position (based on a 5 course arrangement).

For both of these reasons, Dugot and Gétreau considered this instrument to have been owned by an amateur player.

In addition to the labels, the fingerboard is flanked by inked lines of double "purfling."


The fretting is partially diatonic, although it contains a full fret at the 4th position, with is ordinarily missing. The wood wedge for fret 4 also appears lighter in color. Further investigation is necessary to discover if this fretting is original or if the 4th fret was added at a later date. If the 4th fret is original, it suggests a slightly later date for the instrument. In addition, there are conspicuous light marks on the fingerboard "completing" some of the partial frets. Does this suggest that at some point additional "frets" were glued to the surface of the fingerboard to make the instrument fully chromatic?

The distance between the nut and fret 1 is slightly smaller than normal for meantone tuning.7

The partial frets at position 6, 11, 13, and 15 span approximately one-quarter of the width the the fingerboard. Fret 8 and the last 3 frets span approximately three-quarters of the width.


The current nut shows an arrangement of 10 strings in 5 courses. Drawing lines from the current spacing at the nut shows that although frets 6, 11, 13, and 15 could cover both of the top course strings, the 2nd course would just barely be covered, suggesting that the original string arrangment was for 4 courses. On the other hand, the width of the fingerboard is closer to what one finds on citterns of more than 4 courses.8

Whether the arrangement in 5 pairs of courses was original or later, the gilded letters next to the frets signify an open string tuning for 5 courses of (from low to high) C / E / G / B / E.9

Equally interesting are the two longitudinal holes in the pegbox that suggest the instrument used two strings as "drones." According to Dugot and Gétreau, the additional strings run "through two cylindrical canals bored through the neck."10 Whether this phrase refers to the holes in the pegbox or other holes, it is not apparent from any of the other photos where the supplementary strings would go.11

Peter Forrester notes another possibility: "The nut could be in a later position, with the original one where the blank piece of ebony is now. This doesn't go to the edge, and it looks as though the groove beyond it may be for a string? This might indicate a usual 4 course, bass, with two open single bass strings - used like the traditional Italian cittern."12

Assuming that peg 12 was a later addition and that no drone strings were used, yet other possible arrangements for 11 pegs suggest themselves (low to high):

  • 6 courses: 1/1/2/3/2/2
  • 5 courses: 2/2/3/2/2
  • 4 courses: 3/3/2/3 (like Mersenne's illustration)13
String Holder

The string comb is of one piece with the bottom block.14 From the x-ray imaging of the front, it can be seen that the bottom block is also rather substantial (see Soundboard, above).

There are 12 slots in the string comb.

Additional Features

The split baluster on the bass side of the instrument appears to have two holes in it. (It is unknown at this time if the treble side one also has this). Are the holes connected? What are their purpose? Could they have been used for a strap attachment?

(For a close-up at a different angle, see Neck and Fingerboard, above.)

Literature / Additional Resources
  • Dugot, Joël and Florence Gétreau. "Citterns in French Public Collections. Instruments and musical iconography." Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte 66: Gittare und Zister — Bauweise, Spieltechnik und Geschichte bis 1800. (2005). (Also available on-line from the Institut de recherche sur le patrimoine musical en France as a text-only [no images] version. Note: Some of the tabular data is incorrectly formatted in the on-line version.)
  • Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte 66: Gittare und Zister — Bauweise, Spieltechnik und Geschichte bis 1800. (2005).
Many thanks to Peter Forrester for his many observations and theories on this cittern.
  1. Dugot, Joël and Florence Gétreau. "Citterns in French Public Collections. Instruments and musical iconography." Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte 66: Gittare und Zister — Bauweise, Spieltechnik und Geschichte bis 1800. (2005), p. 62. [back]

  2. Ibid., p. 62 [back]

  3. Ibid. p. 66 [back]

  4. Ibid., p. 63 [back]

  5. E-mail to the author from Peter Forrester. "Re: D.32026." 3 August, 2017. [back]

  6. For another instrument with a similar but not identical labeling of the frets, see the "Rossi" cittern. [back]

  7. This fact was pointed out by Peter Forrester, E-mail to the author from Peter Forrester. "Re: D.32026." 3 August, 2017. Dugot and Gétreau provide a comparison chart of fretting intervals among the various citterns in the French public collections in their article, p. 67. A brief look at the chart shows that the fret intervals of D.32026 do not correspond well to the other citterns they examine. [back]

  8. For a range of typical measurements, see Peter Forrester's Builder's Notes. [back]

  9. The tuning is one of several that appears to have been used on the cithrinchen. For more information on the cithrinchen and its tunings, see Studia Instrumentorum, especially the Remarks ("Anmerkungen") about Preußische Staatsbibliothek, Musik­abteilung, Mus. ms. 40267 at the bottom of the page. [back]

  10. Dugot and Gétreau, p. 62. [back]

  11. Peter Forrester notes of the longitudinal pegbox holes that "[i]f they were to allow drone strings it would be essential, but possible that they should not touch the sides of the holes. I would have expected some sort of nut at the peg-end and a visible attachment or its remains on the body." E-mail to the author from Peter Forrester. "Re: D.32026." 3 August, 2017. [back]

  12. E-mail to the author from Peter Forrester. "Re: D.32026." 3 August, 2017. [back]

  13. E-mail to the author from Peter Forrester. "Re: new page posted " 14 August, 2017. [back]

  14. Dugot and Gétreau. p. 62. [back]

How to cite this page: Hartig, Andrew. "Anonymous cittern - Low Countries or France(?), end of the 17th century(?)" Renovata Cythara: The Renaissance Cittern Site. Ed. Andrew Hartig. [an error occurred while processing this directive] 16 July 2024. <>.

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