A musician from Boetius de Muscia, 14th century manuscript, Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale

What was music making like seven hundred years ago, before the dawn of the Renaissance period? This rare painting by an unknown 14th century artist gives some clues. The instrument depicted is a medieval viol, a bow-stringed instrument which appeared about 300 years before the first violins.

The viol depicted in the painting seems to be too heavy for the young lady. Her left hand also reveals a fault typical of most student violinists: her thumb protrudes too much over the neck of the instrument. But we are given a quiet sense of anticipation that music is about to issue from her instrument. Her slightly arched shoulder and delicate grip on the curved bow suggests that, though her timid glance leads us to wonder what sort of sound the unseen audience must be hearing.

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