Video: Dulcimer Player for Marie-Antoinette



Automatons, androids, robots–call them what you will–were a big hit in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

This point was driven home recently after I attended a presentation by musicologist Alexander Bonus at the American Musicological Society Meeting in Indianapolis. The talk centered on Johann Nepomuk Maelzel and a famous 19th-century invention of his, the metronome.

Maelzel was also known for building musical automatons and, in particular, a chess-player named “The Turk,” and the trumpeter. These were among his most popular inventions which toured extensively as show-stopping curiosities.

Maezel’s automatons immediately recall Jacques de Vaucanson, a well-known 18th-century inventor who also created mechanical pieces for exhibition.

The video below features the automaton Joueuse de Tympanon de Marie-Antoinette (pictured), or “Marie-Antoinette’s dulcimer player,” built in 1784 by clockmaker Peter Kintzing and cabinetmaker David Roentgen. Presented to Marie-Anoinette a year after it was built, the dulcimer player was bought and added to the Academy of Science collection.

The video is from a series produced by the Château de Versailles for a current exhibition, “Science and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles,” which runs through February 2011.

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