String Instruments

The Bate Collection has a variety of string instruments representative of all the main strands of European art and folk music. These can be divided between plucked instruments and bowed instruments. The plucked instruments include lutes, mandolins and guitars. The bowed instruments include the violin family and also the viola da gamba family.

Many of the plucked string instruments on display can be traced back to the lute. This type of instrument originated from the Arabic oud (meaning 'wood'), which was introduced to Europe via the Moors in the Medieval period. The English guitar on display is typical of the late 18th century, by which time the lute had fallen out of popularity. The guitar was cheaper to make and easier to play than the lute and so appealed to far more people. The Bate Collection houses a highly decorated guitar. It is probably French and dates to the early 19th century and is an example of the Spanish guitar type, from which our modern guitar is ultimately derived. 



The violin and viol families were created during the renaissance. These instruments were played together in groups and were known as consorts. The bowed string instruments of the violin family, which include violins, violas and cellos and other types of string instruments such as viols. The violin design we are aware of today is derived from the types of bowed string instruments such as viols. The violin design we are aware of today is derived from the types of instruments being made in the Cremonese workshops of the great Italian makers. 

The instruments in the Bate Collection have been 'set up' to reflect the style of instrument being used during the 18th century and can be used to form a baroque string quartet. Among the instruments is a violin that has been crafted from the material remains of an earlier viola d'amore. The body shape differed considerably from the 'classic' style. The violin by Robert Thompson has a later carved capital thought to represent Georgina Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. 

The earliest evidence for bowed string instruments in Europe is the lira of the 9th century Byzantine Empire. During the 11th and 12 centuries the lira, along with the Islamic rebab, spread throughout Europe. The violin was gradually developed over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries: it did not gain its classic outline until around 1550 and a fourth string was not added until later. 

Originally, the violin family was not regarded as the most prestigious of the bowed stringed instruments. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the viol was much more important, and English composers such as Byrd and Purcell composed for consorts of them. Viols usually had 6 gut strings, were fretted and were positioned and played between the legs, a bit like a modern cello. Bass viola da gambas continued to be popular as a solo instrument into the 18th century.

The Bate Collection has a German example from 19th century along with instruments from the 20th century. There are also viola d'amores on display here. Viola d'amores are not strictly part of the viol family, but have a lot in common with them in terms of tone and construction. In addition to these instruments the Bate Collection also holds a 5-stringed quinton.