Fleming, Michael (2001) Viol-Making in England c.1580-1660. Doctoral thesis, Open University.

Viols made in England c.1580-1660 held a leading reputation, yet few survive and little
is known about their makers. This study describes a new protocol for gathering
information from such instruments. Images of thirty-eight viols, and data collected
from them by applying the protocol, are discussed, showing that antique viols provide
unreliable evidence about their original state. On top of the effects of wear, damage and
alteration, changes in the structural wood of viols over time mean they cannot retain
their precise original shape or dimensions. These viols, therefore, are not amenable to
the sort of geometric-proportional analysis of shape which is widely considered to
describe their makers’ intentions. It is also shown to be highly unlikely that either
viol-makers or their clients would have mathematically-sophisticated predilections or
capabilities, so such techniques would not be employed.
Images of viols in a range of media are shown to give an unreliable record of the viols
that were played in England, and to provide good evidence of the shapes and
decoration that were familiar to those who made and used viols. The commercial
organisation of viol-making is examined, demonstrating that although apprenticeship
was important, it was not essential for instrument-making. Viols are shown to have
been made in other places besides London, and by non-specialist woodworkers,
typically described as joiners. Viol-makers are investigated by replacing conventional
ideas of ‘schools’ of making with a detailed consideration of makers’ place in society.
The five viol-makers praised by Thomas Mace (1676) are discussed in detail along
with others, some of whom are identified for the first time. This characterisation of
viol-makers and consideration of extant instruments suggests reforms for our
understanding of the nature of viol-making, and calls into question traditional
attributions of viols to particular makers.

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