There was a great deal of international interest, particularly from institutions, when this five-course baroque guitar by Matteo Sellas of Venice, from the second quarter of the 17th century, was offered at Gardiner Houlgate’s September 19-20 sale in Bath.
The intricate decoration included a pierced parchment
architectural rose to the table, as well as numerous ebony and bone
motifs inlaid, as can be seen, and the fingerboard with panels of
mother-of-pearl with ten later brass frets.
The auctioneers have developed a strong line in guitars, from
classical instruments through to contemporary electric models, and
this one was consigned from overseas.
It was once the property of the renowned picture conservator
Sebastian Isepp (1884-1954), chief restorer at the
Kunsthistorisches Museum, who came to Britain in 1938 at the
instigation of Sir Kenneth Clark. He formed a collection of 35
stringed instruments, most of which were later dispersed, some
passing into the collection of the musicologist and early stringed
instrument player Robert Spencer. This guitar passed by descent to
Specialist James South gave it an estimate of £10,000-15,000,
but such was the interest that it rapidly climbed to £48,000, when
the hammer fell to a well-known dealer/collector possibly buying on
commission. There was an 18% buyer's premium. After the sale Mr
South told ATG: "Sellas was the maker of Romantic period
guitars and there are two similar ones in the National Music Museum
in South Dakota - the top instrument museum in the world - as well
as an almost identical guitar in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
New York (see:
"But for some condition issues and the fact that Sellas used
bone instead of ivory as inlay, it would have made £100,000."
The auctioneers set their house record of £70,000 when they sold
a violoncello in May.