Lute Iconography

For about 40 years I have been collecting images of lutes in art and other media. Then about 20 years ago I started to put this collection onto my computer in a searchable form for my own research purposes. It meant that I could easily pull out images of lutes played with plectra, say, or played with the help of a strap, or 13 course lutes and compare them to the frequency of 12 course lutes in the images. Early on I decided to include information about where and when the originals were created and where the images are held now. I also noted any other instruments which appeared in the same picture so that this too was searchable. This has proved fantastically useful over the years to inform my own research and I have been adding to the database continually, until I now have over 3000 images. (This compares favourably with the official compilation of lute images by RiDIM (Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale) which only has 1064 records of lute images and the great majority of those without any image attached!)

This is a sample page from my database.

Filemaker database page

Two years ago (2020) not wanting to hoard all this to myself, I offered to give the database to the Lute Society. The problem was that I am using FileMaker as a database and they have a VERY aggressive pricing policy for online use which was quite out of the question for the Lute Society to fund. Then our webmaster Luke Emmet came up with the very ingenious idea of adapting a free online software-problem-reporting application called JetBrains, so that instead of reporting software problems it offered reports of individual paintings! This worked quite well but was cumbersome both to use and to maintain as I keep adding more images to the collection. Plus, in an amusing development, JetBrains was implicated as the vector by which a major international hacking operation had done its dirty work.

So Luke looked further and has come up with a much more elegant solution which is much nicer to look at and is easier for researchers to use and, crucially, easier for Luke and I to maintain. This is now live on the Lute Society's website here and is open to the whole world to use freely.

One of the real joys of this is that you can easily refer other people to a specific image by just sending its URL from the database. For instance here is the same page from my database in its online version

I am still adding images as I find them and so if you come across an image that you think could be useful please do send it to me with as much detail as you can find. In general each image takes me about 30 minutes to research and to enter into the database so you can work out how much time I've spent providing 3000 images for you, and any little help you can give by sending me as much relevant detail as possible is very welcome.


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