Jacopo Mosca Cavelli’s 14-String 1725 Chittara Battente

May 13th, 2015

This is an excerpt from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on the Bacon Brothers, Pops Staples, Iconic Axes from the Grateful Dead and Others, Fox News senior national correspondent John Roberts, touring Iceland in a new Land Rover Discovery Sport, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

ROYAL FLASH: Jacopo Mosca Cavelli’s 14-string 1725 chittara battente
By Alan di Perna

GA-Cavrelli-Not-for-Sale-GAThis gorgeously ornate chittara battente from the musical instrument collection at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of only two known instruments of any type made by the 18th century Italian luthier Jacopo Mosca Cavelli. Not much is known about Cavelli, who was active in Perugia. The Latin inscription on the instrument’s inside label suggests that he was originally from Pessaro. Whatever his life story may have been, Cavelli’s high level of craftsmanship is evident in every detail of this remarkable instrument.

“A chittara battente, which roughly translates as ‘struck guitar,’ is so named because it is sometimes strummed—or struck—with a pick rather than plucked with the fingertips,” says curator Darcy Kuronen. “Most early guitars have gut strings, but this has wire strings in five courses, with no low E. On this example there are a total of 14 strings, creating four courses of three strings each and a top course of just two strings. There does not appear to have been a specific repertoire for such guitars, but they are typically of Italian origin.

“Guitars of this type,” Kuronen adds, “are seldom signed or dated, but this example is sumptuously ornamented on nearly every surface. The arched back and sides are created from 23 ribs of bloodwood, while the belly is spruce, housing a very finely carved rosette inside its soundhole. Tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and bone make up the various inlays. The heraldic devices decorating the headstock suggest that a member of the noble Chigi or Pamphilj families of Rome might have originally owned or commissioned the instrument.”

Both family trees include popes and other high-ranking members of the clergy and nobility. In the 19th century, the instrument passed into the hands of Baron Salomon de Rothschild, scion of the century’s prominent Rothschild family of bankers, so this guitar was definitely a luxury commodity. In a rare geographic coincidence, the only other known instrument by Cavelli—a similarly ornamented chittara battente—resides at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, just a few blocks away from the MFA.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jacopo Mosca Cavelli, Italian, active 1720s. Guitar (chitarra battente), 1725; Object Place: Perugia, Italy; bloodwood, spruce, walnut, ivory, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, brass, mastic; length 93cm, width 24.9cm, depth 14.5cm; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Frank B. Bemis Fund and funds donated by William and Deborah Elfers, an anonymous donor, Weston Associates, Leo and Gabriella Beranek, Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser, Richard S. Milstein, Esq., Mrs. Robert B. Newman, and Marlowe and Elise Sigal, 2003.76

This is an excerpt from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on the Bacon Brothers, Pops Staples, Iconic Axes from the Grateful Dead and Others, Fox News senior national correspondent John Roberts, touring Iceland in a new Land Rover Discovery Sport, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

GA_May-June-15

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