Before the Fiddle 5a : Scotland

I made a trip to the National Museum of Scotland to look at a couple of woodcarvings that are a key part of the very limited iconography of the early bowed instruments in Scotland. These items have been employed by writers on Scottish music to support the suggestion that there was a pre-violin fiddle tradition.


This Picassoesque carved relief, perhaps from Threave Castle, Kirkcudbrightshire, and from the late 1500s, shows a violin bodied instrument with a long neck played horizontally from the upper arm. There appears to be a projecting terminal where the scroll is expected. It has been suggested that the subject (and the accompanying bagpiper and dancers) are minstrels, i.e. professional entertainers, and links to Atlantic Spain have been postulated.


In this mid-sixteenth century carving associated with Perthshire the putto is more symbolic rather than real, as found extensively in drawn and painted art throughout Europe although the bells and ribbons around his knees do suggest jolly, musical fun. The musician is playing a rebec-like instrument of three strings, again in a horizontal fashion. The fingers of his left hand do not quite meet the strings – is it possible that the player is using the finger nail, side pressure technique found in Crete, Bulgaria, Poland and elsewhere as discussed in previous posts?