Characterization and conservation of the decorative paint on seventeenth-century French and Flemish harpsichord soundboards

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Echard, Jean-Philippe; Laloue, Christine; Chochod, Isabelle; Pipitone, Daniele;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number S1, p.103-113 (2012)


The soundboards of seventeenth-century Flemish and French harpsichords, spinets, and virginals are frequently decorated with painted floral, animal, and ornamental motifs. Such decoration is very specific to this part of the instrument, and there are still many open questions regarding its aesthetics, as well as its technique and conservation. The few studies on the painting techniques and materials that exist to date have dealt with Flemish or with late eighteenth-century French instruments. Technical examination, using exclusively in situ techniques, was conducted on the soundboard paintings of the important corpus of seventeenth-century instruments in the collection of the Musée de la musique in Paris and showed regional specificities. Pigments were characterized using X-ray fluorescence, which in particular allowed qualitative discrimination between smalt pigments of different compositions. The state of conservation of the paintings could also be better understood, considering the mechanical deformations, stresses, and vibrations undergone by this specific painting support, a harpsichord soundboard. Future conservation protocols will thus require a delicate balance in order to preserve the double nature of such artefacts: musical instruments and works of art.