Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Piano designed by John Broadwood and Son, English, active 1795-1808
Cameos and medallions designed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795)
Case decoration by Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806)
Veneered case of satinwood, tulipwood, and purpleheart with Wedgwood cameos and medallions
Piano: 97 7/8 x 43 7/8 x 35 7/8 in. (248.7 x 111.5 x 91.2 cm)
Detail of lilac Wedgwood medallion: c. 3 in. across (7.6 cm)
George Alfred Cluett Collection, given by Florence Cluett Chambers
Acquired in 1985
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reproduced with permission. © 2000 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All Rights Reserved.
This lavishly ornamented Broadwood grand piano has touched many worlds. Its history begins with Spanish Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, who commissioned it, possibly as a gift for Queen Maria Luisa of Spain. Ultimately following a path through France and England which can only be partially traced, the piano arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1985.
The piano was built in 1796 in London during a period of rapid advancement in the art and science of piano making. John Broadwood was the major author of this progress, and his shop, aided by physicists, acousticians, and leading decorative artists, produced the finest instruments in Europe. Broadwood pianos expanded both the octave compass and the power of the piano beyond anything heard before. These larger and more responsive instruments attracted the attention of many musicians; both Haydn and Beethoven played Broadwood grand pianos.
Among the thousands of pianos produced by Broadwood and Son, the instrument at the Museum of Fine Arts is unique. The case is believed to have been designed by the eccentric and influential Thomas Sheraton, a Baptist minister, teacher, and designer whose books on cabinetmaking helped define a style of elegant ornamentation combined with varnished, rather than painted, wood. The medallions and cameos on the piano are the work of Josiah Wedgwood, the renowned ceramist. Wedgwood began producing his elegant neoclassical stoneware in the 1760s. The Wedgwood style quickly won lasting favor and found its way into all manner of decorative arts.
Broadwood and Son remained a dominant force in piano building through the 19th century until their handcrafted approach was superseded by mass production in the latter half of the century. Grand pianos are still produced by makers around the world, but instruments today are prized for their musical, not decorative, character. The familiar rounded shape and black finish of the concert grand have become standard.
The Broadwood piano was given to the MFA in 1985 and stands as the centerpiece of the museum's culturally diverse Musical Instrument Collection.
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