Some Observations about the Fludd Cittern

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[Fludd cittern.]

The following comments and observations about the Fludd Cittern were pointed out to me in an email by James Stimson:

I have studied with great interest the woodcuts on the cittern page. The unusual-looking "Fludd" cittern appears particularly noteworthy.

We certainly must allow that many drawings of instruments through the ages are inaccurate or out of scale. However, there is another explanation for this unique instrument, assuming the drawing IS accurate: it may be a four-course bass cittern. This is suggested by the following aspects:

  1. The size of the body relative to its depth,
  2. The extremely close spacing of the strings, and
  3. The slanted nut and bridge, similar to a bandora, also a bass instrument.

This last aspect presents another problem. If the instrument is a "true" cittern, with traditional cittern tuning of A-G-D-E or B-G-D-E (bottom to top), it hardly would need slanted frets to make the bass strings work. In addition, I know of no extant treble instruments with slated frets or nut.

A bandora needs the slantwise arrangement to get a long enough seventh-course bass string to play a low G (an octave below the sixth course of a tenor lute) and still have a first course in A that works.

So, if the drawing is accurate, it most likely is a cittern/bandora hybrid, with four courses like a cittern, but larger and tuned in fourths (or fifths?) like a bandora. This instrument, with just four courses, would probably be more "strummable" than a bandora, perhaps most useful for upbeat dances and the like.

Taken by itself, the picture of the Fludd cittern presents an intersting iconographical challenge. Just how accurate is the drawing? What does it really tell us about the cittern in the Renaissance (or Fludd's view)?

These are questions to which a good answer would be difficult and tediously long. A full study of Fludd's book and maybe even a bit about Fludd, the artist who created the woodcut, and Renaissance England would be a start in the right direction — none of which I have time for here.

In order to further elucidate James' remarks and as a starting point for others to form their own opinion, I am making available some of the other more "normal" instruments that are also featured in Fludd's work. While I agree that there is the possibility that the drawing could be accurate, in the context of the other drawings from the Fludd manuscript it is does not appear to be "typical". One might consider the pictures of the lute and bandora from his manuscript to be likewise somewhat spindly and "suspect" in appearance.

My take on the "slanted" frets is as follows: it is possibly an error/illusion in an attempt to portray perspective. The frets themselves do not appear "fanned" so much as slanted. Fanning (as on bandoras) normally occurs when both nut and bridge are slanted resulting in frets nearly perpendicualr to the soundboard near the 1/2 way mark (or octave) on the neck.

What is really unusual is that the Fludd bandora seems also to exhibit this "slanting" of frets — even more so than the cittern - yet has a perfectly perpendicular bridge.

With that, I leave the evidence in the hands of the viewers of this page for them to decide for themselves. If anyone has any comments that they would like to share or post, James and I would be more than happy to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me.

[Fludd cittern.] [Fludd lute.]
[Fludd bandora.] [Fludd viol.]

Last updated Thursday, June 21, 2012.