renaissance hurdy gurdy

Renaissance Hurdy Gurdy (XVI – XVII)

Hurdy Gurdy during the renaissance

The Garden of delights – Triptic by Hyeronimous van Aecken – Bosch

The hurdy gurdy in the renaissance has a lot of mentions, it’s featured in many etchings during the fifteenth century, it’s often called lyra, lira or leier.

When academics look at the role of the hurdy gurdy in this period they often stress the use of our instrument in the hands of beggars. We are facing a situation where most likely people of wealth of the period seen farmers who couldn’t work their lands in winter and automatically classified them as beggars.

we can’t assume that the instrument was marginal and played badly, as peasants and farmers would often use the hurdy gurdy in party settings in summer and show their talents to get money when there was necessity.

Detail of Teniers the Younger, David painting in museo del prado, madrid, spain.
Detail of Teniers the Younger, David painting in museo del prado, madrid, spain.

There’s also evidence of hurdy gurdy beeing played in renaissance courts, as shown in the description of “the feast of the phesant” 17 Februrary of 1454.

This was a big feast by Duke Philip the good of burgundy to celebrate the fall of constantinople. in This big event we have register of two musicians playing hurdy gurdy, Jehan de Cardoval and Jehan Fernandez.

There’s also a register of payments in 1419 from John the fearless to musicians of the court of Philip of Burgundy featuring 12 hurdy gurdy players!

Despite this proof of the hurdy gurdy in secular life, we also have proof of its use in religious settings, with plenty of registers of illuminations and mentions in manuscripts of the period, such as Sfoza Book of hours or in the codex of Coburg.

Sforza Book of Hours, fol 32 MS ADD 34294
St John Altarpiece (Memling) showing one of the 24 elders playing hurdy gurdy, among organetto, rotta and other instruments.

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