Video Virginal
Lady at a virginal
(Click the image for a larger version)


The system in situ
(Click the image for a larger version)


(Click the image for a larger version)

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery acquired a painting (left) of a lady in a posh dress, playing a virginal. These paintings were all the rage in 17th century Holland among parents with marriageable daughters. Maybe they were some sort of dowry advert. Vermeer painted a number of them. Anyway, BMAG wanted a display, aimed mainly at children, to demonstrate the inner workings of a virginal, with some music playing so that children could hear what a virginal sounds like.

After much thought and discussion, we expanded the project. We imported a virginal from Mytholmroyd and a player from London, borrowed Aston Hall for a day, dressed our long-suffering player in a dress similar to the one in the painting, and created a number of video clips of the virginal being played in an appropriate acoustic.

The finished system is housed in a virginal case, reproduced at about 3/5 scale from plans of an original in Edinburgh. The only major departure from the prototype is the video screen mounted in the lid. This would have been considered too distracting in the 17th century. The keyboard has groups of keys joined together, to produce seven large keys. Six of these keys trigger video clips of different pieces of music, and the seventh triggers a video of the internal workings of a virginal. When idle, it plays a rolling video of Aston Hall.

The system has proved very popular, especially with children. It's used by the education department as part of their study days. Children view the painting, play with the virginal, and try on a selection of 17th century garments.