The viol's belly is traditionally built following two different methods,
one by carving a thick board formed by joining two halves, the other one
by gluing and then carving a number of wooden strips which are heat bent.
(1) Simone Zopf: A Study of Three Viols Attribuited to Antonio Ciciliano
The Italian Viola da Gamba
The number of the pieces varied usually from two (1) to nine.
In fact a third mixed method was sometimes used, which consisted in bending
one or more strips, and carving the other thick ones. We can find historical
instruments with the belly showing traces of bending, dating back to the
It does not seem likely that this bending was done to save wood, rather
to create a structure which could withstand the strings pressure. In this
regard it makes sense to remember that a similar curved structure was
already well known to the lute builders.
On the right you can see a part of the picture Sense of Hearing, of Jan
Breugel (the Elder); the soundboard clearly shows the traces of the composite
Click on the image to enlarge
Later on, the classic Northern Italian style prevailed, which provides
that the belly be carved out of thick solid wood, but nevertheless viols
were still often built with their belly made of 3 or more strips. The
sound qualities typical of this building method were evidently preferred
in certain musical styles.
Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Italian Viola da Gamba
Christophe Coin and Susan Orlando, Directors
Edition Ensemble Baroque de Limoge, 2002