Harpsichord by Bartolomeo Cristofori

Contributed by Tony Chinnery

Harpsichord by Bartolomeo Cristofori

My harpsichord is by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Florentine builder and inventor who created the first pianoforte in 1700 whilst working for Prince Ferdinando de Medici as keeper of his collection of keyboard instruments. It took nearly a century for the piano to supplant the harpsichord, in the meantime both pianos and harpsichords were being made and used. After the death of Ferdinando in 1713, Cristofori built pianos and harpsichords for customers outside the court. These instruments have very simple cases in poplar, unlike the instruments he built for the court in ebony and rosewood. My harpsichord, probably one of these late instruments, figures in a catalogue of Leopoldo Franciolini, the infamous Florentine dealer who was trading at the end of the 19th century, a time of crisis for the Florentine aristocracy. The painted decoration is by him. He probably sold it to an American customer, as I acquired it in an auction in New York. It bears an unidentified seal, presumably of a Florentine family. Although the soundboard, keyboard and action are lost, there are enough construction details to identify it definitely as the work of Cristofori. It is now in my home, near Florence.

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Florence, Italy


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