Welcome to Grant Tomlinson’s Historical Lute Archive.

A number of years ago I approached Phil Rukavina, then president of the LSA, wondering if the LSA would be interested in hosting on their website my archive of data sheets, observations and photographs of historical lutes.  Phil was very enthusiastic, stating that this was an opportunity for the LSA to become an important resource for both lute makers and historians.  After many hours (years actually) of organizing and scanning hundreds of pages of handwritten notes and close to two thousand photographs, the project has come to fruition.

The bulk of this research took place from May 1978 to January 1979.  Up to that point I had only built one lute, under the direction of my mentor and lute teacher Ray Nurse.  I examined and photographed instruments in museums in Bologna, Paris, Brussels, Nurnberg, Vienna and London.  In London, I met Stephen Gottlieb and Michael Lowe, who were very encouraging and also helped to uncover gaps in the information I was recording.  Stephen lent me his “template-taker”, which could accurately record both the cross-sections and longitudinal section of the often complex and subtle curves of the old lute bowls.  I used this devise for my work in both the V&A and the Royal College in London, then I went back to Bologna to re-examine and record new data on instruments in both the Accademia Filarmonica and the Museo Civico. In 1986 / 1987 I had the incredible opportunity to spend a year working under the direction of Stephen Gottlieb (generously sponsored by the Canada Council), and towards the end of that period I examined instruments in the CNSM Paris and also in the Bardini collection in Florence.

Organizing this material for the LSA has been a great personal experience for a number of reasons.  This is actually the first time that the data sheets and all the photographs have been together and arranged side-by-side.  Standard reproduction of B&W photos is very expensive, whereas scanning photo negatives simply takes time, consequently many of these photos have been enlarged for the first time.   The scanned photos can easily be manipulated in size, so as long as the photo is clear and not too grainy it is possible to see details that aren’t so obvious.  For example, take a look at the way the double lines have been carved in the rose on the 1619 Venere in Brussels, GT# 46…in working on this project I have come to realize that this type of carving is much more frequently found on roses from the Renaissance than I was aware of.

One comment about the photos…the first instrument that I examined was the now famous 7 course 1592 Venere in the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna.  The instrument had only recently been “discovered” by the lute community, and I learned of its existence from Anthony Bailes, who was my lute teacher for several months.  When I examined the lute it was in a small room lit by a single incandescent light (no windows)…so even though I was using a tripod and shutter-release, I decided to use a “fast” indoor film (ASA 400).  This type of film gives more “grainy” photos than slower film (ASA 100), and I continued using fast film for most of my museum work.  This was an unfortunate choice, as some of the photos (especially the full-view shots)  have a somewhat “soft” appearance.  In scanning the photos, I have done my best to keep the results as crisp as the negatives would allow…. Of course, if I could do all of this again, I would use my digital Nikon and take colour photos.

I hope that making this material available will encourage other lute makers who have had the opportunity to collect data and photographs of historical lutes to do the same. 

Terms of use for this material: 

For lute makers and players: please feel free to photocopy and use both the data sheets and the photographs
or your own work and for your own historical archive. 

Please refrain from sharing the material (instead please refer the person in question to this site). 

For publications of any type: this material is copyrighted by Grant Tomlinson and written permission and also acknowledgement of the source will be required.