How Antwerp resounded throughout the world


Until the second half of the 18th century, when it was gradually ousted by the pianoforte, it was a favoured instrument in distinguished circles. Particularly between around 1550 and 1650, Antwerp produced and exported the best specimens in the world. We are talking about the harpsichord.

The crown of Antwerp's metropolis is adorned with many gems: the Cathedral of Our Lady, Peter Paul Rubens, Central Station, diamonds, the second largest port in Europe, Christophe Plantin ... But, undeservedly, the harpsichord is often missing from the list. 

In the 16th century, all kinds of producers and traders came to settle in the economically prosperous Antwerp. The city also maintained extensive international trade contacts. German immigrants were the first to build harpsichords; they then exported them through the network all over Europe and even far beyond. One of the best-known 17th-century harpsichord builders is the Antwerp native Joannes Couchet (1615-1655). Peter Paul Rubens and Dutchman Johannes Vermeer painted them, and the German composer George Frideric Handel played them.

Sovereigns, the nobility, the wealthy bourgeoisie, and anyone who was otherwise well-off or (pretending to be) intelligent did not want to hear about wind instruments; they opted to purchase this keyboard. Or at least its more modest and therefore cheaper brother, the virginal.

Learn more about this barely known piece of cultural history at the Museum Vleeshuis and the Snijders&Rockox House in Antwerp.