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Peter Tkach

Harpsichord Maker

Andrea Tkach Harpsichord Decoration


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French Flemish
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French and Flemish styles of soundboard painting present entirely different effects in four areas: the borders, the spacing of items, the types of items painted, and the style of painting. The type of instrument generally dictates the style of painting to be used on the instrument, but personal preference is also a factor. You can also order essays on this art form from our partners BestWritingService.com

The Flemish soundboard has a simple, basic border which consists of a straight line topped by narrow scallops. However, this simplicity is interrupted at regular intervals of 6" to 12" by "explosions" of arabesques of about 2" to 4" which extend into the soundboard area. Flowers, fruit, birds, insects, and some whimsical items (such as monkeys, shrimp, peacocks, etc.) on the board are fairly small and placed quite close together, giving the effect of overall decoration. Items are painted in a rather naive style-a single color for each item, with shading and highlighting accomplished by an overlay of minute lines in different colors. The result is simple, naive, and charming.

In contrast, the French style is freer, more spacious, and more realistic. The French border is generally more ornate but of a regular width surrounding the board and bridges; it is uniform and uninterrupted. Flowers, birds, and insects (fruit, too, if desired!) are spaced farther apart and are usually larger and more gracefully disposed than similar items painted in the Flemish style. The most common items found in French painting are flowers, birds, and butterflies. The French painting style is more realistic, with blended colors, shades, and highlights. The result is one of garden flowers gracefully placed on an open expanse of wood.

Borders in both styles are traditionally done in a dark, warm blue color (although I have done many in muted green and in colors to match or complement exterior colors). The items to be included in both styles vary greatly at the discretion of the owner but can be more varied in the Flemish style (we have a monkey smoking a pipe on our Flemish, and many Flemish soundboards are graced by a pigeontoed storka traditional design!).

Although the period of the particular harpsichord will generally dictate the type of decoration of the soundboard, some instruments patterned from prototypes spanning periods leave these options open; the choice is, therefore, dictated by the preference of the client. The differences in the painting styles and subject matters cause the Flemish board to be described as charming while the French board is more formal and elegant.

© Peter Tkach