"Rybeben" at the Court of Maximilian / Martin Kirnbauer

Music in Maximilian’s Triumphzug

The court of Maximilian I of Habsburg (1459–1519) plays a special role in the iconography of the early viola da gamba, since it is there – approximately at the same time as the “Groß Geigen” in Sebastian Virdung’s treatise of 1511 – that the first pictorial evidence of the new stringed instruments, which however are here called “Rybeben,” is to be found. The illustrations in question are the well-known depictions in the so-called Triumphzug, the frequently reproduced woodcuts with the portrayal of a fictional procession of Maximilian’s royal household, which however never existed in this form.[1] In the Triumphzug are a total of five wagons with musicians: aside from the wagon of the “Musica Canterey” with the actual court chapel, which was above all responsible for the liturgical services, together with the “Zingkenplasser vnnd pusauner” (cornett players and trombonists), the wagon of the “Musica Rigal vnd possetif” (music – regal and portative) on which the organist Paul Hofhaimer is shown together with keyboard instruments and a bellows-treader, and the wagon of the “Musica, Schalmayen, pusaunen, krumphörner” (music of shawms, trombones, crumhorns), which for all intents and purposes represents the “alta cappella,” there are two further wagons, wagons on which stringed instruments are to be seen:


  • a wagon with the designation “Musica Lauten und Rybeben” (music of lutes and "Rybeben", i.e. viols) (Figure 1), which, as a complementary ensemble for the “basse musique,” comes immediately before the above-mentioned "alta cappella"


  • and a wagon with the designation “Musica süeß Meledey” (music of sweet melody) (Figure 2), which is to be seen as the (secular) instrumental ensemble complementary to the then following (sacred) vocal music of the “Musica Canterey”


1 Triumphzug Tafel 18

Fig. 1: Triumphzug „Musica Lauten und Rybeben“ (Woodcut by Hans Burgkmair). Source: Public domain.


2 Triumphzug Tafel 24
Fig. 2: Triumphzug „Musica süeß Meledey“ (Woodcut by Hans Burgkmair). Source: Public domain.


As is well known, the monumental project of the Triumphzug traces back to a program that the emperor himself is supposed to have dicated to his secretary Marx Treitzsaurwein in 1512 (discussed below).[2] Based on these specifications, Albrecht Altdorfer and his Regensburg workshop produced miniatures of the Triumphzug on parchment. But exactly the first part with the musicians’ wagons has not come down to us, so that we unfortunately do not know the exact appearance of the instruments as originally painted. The miniatures were however not the intended final product; planned were large-scale woodcuts. For the realization of the woodcuts from the miniatures, other artists were employed, who produced drawings in the larger format of the woodcuts: most of the preliminary drawings (sixty-six items) were done by Hans Burgkmair in Augsburg, others by Altdorfer in Regensburg (thirty-two), Hans Springinklee in Nuremburg (twenty-two), as well as Leonhard Beck in Augsburg and other artists such as Hans Huber, Hans Schäufelein, and Albrecht Dürer. These drawings were then transferred onto woodblocks, which explains why they did not survive: they were destroyed by transfer process and additionally also became superfluous. Finally, the woodblocks were cut by specialists.[3]

Even just this overview makes it clear that the genesis of the pictures of the Triumphzug is fairly complex – and that the pictures came into being in entirely different places: initially imagined in Maximilian’s mind or that of his secretary Treitzsaurwein, who indicated the names of the instruments to be painted in the pictures. Then followed, on the basis of the names, the realization into a concrete form in the Regensburg workshop of Altdorfer and the participating artists. For this reason, it has to be assumed that, both for the commission to Altdorfer as well as later for the realization by the various artists, there were further model images and sketches with instructions for the execution that have not been preserved or identified to date.[4]


Although only half the miniatures originally produced by Albrecht Altdorfer are preserved today, the complete miniature cycle was copied onto parchment twice in the late sixteenth and/or early seventeenth century: the earlier set of copies is today in Vienna (A-Wn Cod. Min.77); a second set, from ca. 1606 is in Madrid (E-Mn Res. 254).[5] Both copies are interesting because they make it clear that the original models were obviously different from the finished woodcuts. However, it is also clear that the two copies differ from each other in details, which puts the term “copy” into perspective.[6] At the same time, it can be inferred that Burgkmair and the other artists each interpreted the models and instructions for the woodcuts differently – and that the copyists of the miniatures probably also allowed themselves some liberties.

Finally, there are other drawings that can be dated near to the creation of the Triumphzug. For example, there are the sketches formerly attributed to the Innsbruck court painter Jörg Kölderer (and dated correspondingly early), but that, on the basis of their watermarks, have been shown to come from the second half of the sixteenth century.[7]

The genesis of the Triumphzug can be summarized as follows (the respective source is given in angle brackets):



“Concept” by Maximilian/Treitzsauerwein <A-Wn Cod. 2805>

“Fair copy” by Treitzsauerwein <A-Wn Cod. 2835>


Preliminary studies of the pictures <deest>

Series of miniatures by Altdorfer <A-W Albertina Inv. 25205–25263>

Realization for the woodcuts (by Burgkmair, Altdorfer, and others) <deest>

    [Instructions for Burgkmair <D-Dresden Kupferstichkabinett Inv. G 2004-1>]


Cutting of the woodblocks <A-W Albertina Inv. HO2006/170-303>

1526 First printing of the Triumphzug
2nd half 16th c. Pen and ink sketches <A-W Albertina Inv. 43299-43315>
after 1570 Second printing of the Triumphzug

late 16th century

Copy of Altdorfer’s miniatures <A-Wn Cod. Min. 77>
1606 Copy Altdorfer’s miniatures <E-Mn Res. 254>
1777 Third printing of the Triumphzug
1796 Fourth printing of the Triumphzug
1883/84 Fifth printing of the Triumphzug


Depiction of the stringed instruments

If one now considers the surviving pictorial sources with regard to the stringed instruments, it can be ascertain that initially (or in Altdorfer’s miniatures) a large instrument with pointed upper bouts (“small wings”) was painted, in one case displaying six strings and clearly visible frets (Figure 3).[8] Additionally depicted is a somewhat smaller instrument (with only four strings, but five tuning pegs?) with rounded-off upper bouts (Figure 4). The Berlin drawing, on the other hand, offers a “hybrid” with flat upper bouts – a form that is incidentally also found in Albrecht Dürer’s Ehrenpforte, which came into being at the same time as the Triumphzug.[9] As far as can be seen, the instruments have four C-shaped sound holes and a sickle-shaped pegbox with curled ends (tending toward a “scroll”). The instrument on the second wagon displays the pointed upper bouts, but deviates in that the four sound holes are fashioned in S-form (Figure 5).

3  Triumphzug Cod. Min. 77 Detail Rybebe rechts4 Triumphzug Cod. Min. 77 Detail Rybebe links5 Triumphzug Cod. Min 77 f.10 Detail Rybebe

Fig. 3: Detail of the  rybebe on the right, in „Musica Lauten und Rybeben“

(A-Wn Cod. Min. 77, fol. 9)

Source: http://data.onb.ac.at/rec/AL00225387 Scan 25

Fig. 4: Detail of the rybebe on the left, in „Musica Lauten und Rybeben“

(A-Wn Cod. Min. 77, fol. 9)

Source: http://data.onb.ac.at/rec/AL00225387 Scan 25

Fig. 5: Detail of the rybebe in „Musica süeß Meledey“

(A-Wn Cod. Min. 77, fol. 10)

Source: http://data.onb.ac.at/rec/AL00225387 Scan 27

© Figs. 3-5: Österreichische Nationalbibliotek Wien




In the woodcut version by Burgkmair, on the other hand, all these instruments display uniformly pointed upper bouts and C-shaped sound holes. Noteworthy on the instrument seen from the rear is the strange extension of the neck that reaches to the back. In the “Musica Lauten vnd Rybeben” wagon, Burgkmair also changed the arrangement of the instruments, with the five musicians now in a group of three lutenists sitting on the left and a group of two with bowed instruments on the right. Significant is also that not a single instrument is actually shown being held “da gamba,” that is to say, between the legs. However, the preserved miniatures and sketches are realized too differently to allow further assertions – and the woodcuts represent only a graphic interpretation of the instructions, but at the same time suggest real instruments (and indeed more so than in the miniatures).


Names of the stringed instruments

The stringed instruments played “da gamba” style in the pictures are designated as “Rybebe” in all of the texts of the Triumphzug (also with the orthographic variant “Ribebe”). The earliest preserved written version of the program, the above-mentioned compilation by Marx Treitzsaurwein from 1512, reads:[10]


Music of lutes and "Rybeben"
And then shall be depicted a low little car on small plough wheels,
And two elks shall draw the little car, and a little boy shall be the driver, therefore the boy shall bear the verse inscription.
And on the same small car shall be five lutenists and "Rybeber".
And their leader shall be Artus, and his verse, borne by the boy, shall read:
How he prepared the lutes and "Ribeben" in the most artistic way for an entertainment in accordance with the Emperor’s orders.
And the lutenists, viol "Ribeber", and the boy shall all be wearing laurel wreaths.


Music of sweet melody
Again depict a similar small low car with plough wheels, drawn by a dromedary, and a boy shall drive it and bear the leader’s verse.
On the car shall be the sweet melody, that is:
First, a small tabor ("tämerlin"), a small lute ("quintern"), a large lute, a "Rÿbeben", a fiddle, a small "rauschpfeife", a harp, a large "rauschpfeife".
The master’s name and his verse are yet to be determined.
The boy and all of them shall be wearing laurel wreaths.[11]


Revealing is the presumed concept of this program in the above-mentioned Cod. 2805, which seems to be a preliminary stage of the quoted fair copy, for it reads “ain Musica mit Geigen. vnd lautten” (music with "Geigen" and lutes) instead of “Musica Lauten vnd Rybeben” for the first wagon. Also for the second wagon, the concept only speaks of “geigen”; thus the “Rybebe” (viol) was not present at the beginning and only added during the elaboration of the text. Nevertheless, the name “Rybebe” existed already at this preliminary stage, since the verse for the inscription of the first wagon reads “Der lautten. vnd Ribeben ton” (the sound of the lutes and "Ribeben"). One could perhaps speculate here that the “Ribebe” appears for metric reasons; to have the same number of syllables, perhaps it would otherwise have been less elegant and with a repeated definite article: “Der lautten vnd der Geigen ton.” I tend to suspect, however, that the name “Ribebe,” which as a borrowed word lent an “exotic” effect, appeared more interesting and representative than the matter-of-fact and, so to speak, common term “Geige” (which could mean a viol or a fiddle respectively violin).

In any case, it can be concluded that the name “Rybebe” was undoubtedly already present from the beginning, but certainly stood in competition with the “Geige.” And a second conclusion is possible: the instrument name “Rybebe” obviously did not pose any problems for the artists involved, and could be realized as a stringed instrument. Where did this name come from?


“Rybeben” evidence

In terms of etymology, the connection between the Arabian “rabāb” and the “rebec” seems clear, whereby already Curt Sachs concluded that any attempt to identify a “Rubebe,” in contrast to the “Rebec,” as a lower instrument on the basis of the sources was untenable.[12] The chronologically last evidence known to Sachs was the Triumphzug, and Herb Myers also opined that in German-speaking regions in Maximilian’s time the term “Geige” (or indeed “Groß Geigen”) would have been more common.[13] However, a different picture emerges in Italy, where the designation “ribebe” is to be found quite often – and here it is also possible to establish a connection to Maximilian and its orbit. In 1492 a Venetian delegation, whose travel journal contains a number of musical details, was sent to Maximilian.[14] The delegation finally met up with Maximilian in Strasbourg, and the report records a courtesy visit by the royal musicians in the delegation’s lodgings:

In l’hospitio venero sonatori dil Rè, primum trombetti 14 cum nachere grande, et tutti sonorono. Funo tamburini, sonadori di lauto del Rè, eccellentia flauti, bagatelle, scrimiadori et ribebe, altre sorte de flauti dignissimi.

(The king’s musicians came to the lodgings; first the fourteen trumpeters with large timpani, and all of them played; then there were drummers, the king’s lute players, outstanding flute players, “bagatelle”[?] schryari [or schreyerpfeife], and “ribebe,” other kinds of very worthy wind instruments.)[15]


In need of explanation is perhaps the strange inclusion of the “ribebe” in the middle of wind instruments,[16] but nevertheless the Venetians employ the name “ribebe” for the instruments of the imperial musicians. On another occasion, a “violetta” is mentioned, but it is not ascertainable whether it is a different instrument or not.[17] But the “ribebe” appears in the travel report a number of times, for example, in the outward journey to Trento. there they describe the appearance of

uno buffone, sonator di bizzari instrumenti, et cum lui una femina cythareda, la qual cantò molti canti Thedeschi, sonando tuttavia essa certa sua ribeba.

(a jester, who played the strangest instruments, and with him a woman who played the harp, and who sang many German songs and played her “ribebe” at the same time.)


It would certainly be an overinterpretation to construe from this evidence this instrument’s connection to or even origin in Italy, even though the term is clearly a loanword. However, it can be presumed that the Venetians used terms familiar to them for the designations of the instruments.[18]

Among the many musicians who were occupied in Maximilian’s representational musical organization, no “Rybeben” players have yet to be identified.[19] But also the explicit mention of “Geigern” was very rare at Maximilian’s court – as far as I know, the first time was in 1515 when “Caspar Egkern, Gregorien vnd Georigen Porrner, kay. Mayt. geigern” were named as recipients of a payment in Augsburg.[20] In the following years, up to the disbandment of the court chapel, there were only four “kay. Mayt. Geiger” (a Jheronimus Hager additionally joins the above-mentioned players). From these payment records, Keith Polk and others have deduced that a new ensemble of violas da gamba (with four different ranges) existed at this time.[21] This however seems to be a somewhat premature conclusion based on an all-too-meager amount of data – culled merely from information in the municipal account books in Augsburg and Nuremberg in which payments to foreign musicians were recorded – from which to derive evidence for a new performance practice.

As a result of this close reading of the available sources on the “Rybebe” at the court of Maximilian, it can be concluded that the name was probably of Italian origin and known at Maximilian’s court around 1512, and perhaps used there as a new name for the larger stringed instruments. This fits to further evidence for the name “Rybebe”: In 1519 the musician (or rather “Pusauner” [trombonist]) Ulrich Schubinger was hired at the court of Salzburg. There he had the duty

seines f[ürstlic]h[en] gnaden mit ribeben, geygen, pusawn, pfeiffen, lawtten und annders instrumentn in der musiken, darauf er etwas khann, wann und als offt Ime das von seiner f[ürstlic]h[en] gnaden wegen angesagt wirdet, inner und awsserhalb Salzburg on widerred trewlich und vleissigklich dienen.

(to serve without demur, faithfully, and diligently his Princely Grace with “ribeben,” "geigen," trombone, pipes, lutes, and other musical instruments that he can play, when and as often as requested of him by His Princely Grace, within and outside of Salzburg.)[22]


Like in the Triumphzug, the “Rybebe” is named here as an instrument alongside others – and before the “Geige”; obviously indicating a somehow distinct instrument. However, the sources known to date are in no way sufficient to attribute a unique or unequivocal form to this instrument.

(translated by Howard Weiner)


[1] See, for example, Herbert Myers, “The Musical Miniatures of the ‘Triumphzug’ of Maximilian I,” GSJ 60 (2007), 3–28 and 98–108 (color plates), or the practical compilation by Uta Henning, Musica Maximiliana: Die Musikgraphiken in den bibliophilen Unternehmungen Kaiser Maximilians I. (Neu-Ulm: Stegmiller 1987); a current overview is offered in Martin Kirnbauer, “Instrumentalkünstler am Hof Maximilians I.,” in Musikleben des Spätmittelalters in der Region Österreich, edited by Birgit Lodes and Reinhart Strohm,  http://www.musical-life.net/essays/i3-instrumentalkuenstler-am-hof-maximilians-i (accessed on 1 June 2016).

[2] Transcribed in A-Wn Cod. 2835, fol. 3r–25r with the program dictated (“given verbally”) by Maximilian in 1512, recorded by Marx Treitzsaurwein; see Franz Schestag, “Kaiser Maximilian I. Triumph,” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses 1 (1883), 154–81, 154. From among the rich literature about the Triumphzug, mention should be made of Kaiser Maximilian I. und die Kunst der Dürerzeit, edited by Eva Michel and Maria Luise Sternath (Munich etc.: Prestel 2012) and  Myers, “The Musical Miniatures.”

[3] “Musica süeß Meledey” was cut on 25 November 1516 by Jan Taberith, and “Musica Lauten und Rybeben” on 5 March 1517 by Willem Liefrinck; Schestag, “Kaiser Maximilian I. Triumph,” 177.

[4] An exception is undoubtedly the verbal program for Burgkmair (now in the Kupferstichkabinett Dresden, Inv. G 2014-1).

[5]  See Michel and Sternath, Kaiser Maximilian I. und die Kunst der Dürerzeit, 244–47 (Kat. 54 + 54a) and Myers, “The Musical Miniatures.”

[6] According to Michel and Sternath, Kaiser Maximilian I. und die Kunst der Dürerzeit, 244, the Madrid copy was made by means of a tracing process from one of the Vienna miniatures; it cannot be determined, however, which of the two versions served as the model for the musicians’ wagons.

[7] Albertina Inv. 43299–43315, and a drawing of the “Musica Lauten vnd Rybeben” in the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin, which is marked “HB 1520” (KdZ 17657).

[8] Concerning this, see also the article by Thilo Hirsch <Link>.

[9] The monumental woodcut was prepared in 1515 by Albrecht Dürer and Albrecht Altdorfer; the instruments are found at the respective bases of the two middle columns.

[10] A-Wn Cod. 2835, fol. 7 r+v and 8v-9r (thus and similarly also in the sketches and the well-known edition by Schestag, “Kaiser Maximilian I. Triumph,” 158 and 159).

[11] Translation after The Triumph of Maximilian I: 137 Woodcuts by Hans Burgkmair and Others, edited and translated by Stanley Appelbaum (New York: Dover, 1964).

[12]  Curt Sachs, Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente, zugleich Polyglossar für das gesamte Instrumentengebiet (Berlin: Julius Bard, 1913), s.v. “Rubebe.”

[13] Myers, “The Musical Miniatures,” 11, n. 30. See also Keith Polk, German Instrumental Music of the Late Middle Ages: Players, Patrons and Performance Practice, Cambridge Musical Texts and Monographs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 30, who states that in the German-speaking area the term “rebec” and its derivatives were “extremely rare.”

[14] Enrico Simonsfeld, “Itinerario di Germania dell’ anno 1492,” Miscellanea di storia veneta, series 2, vol. 9 (1903): 277–345 and 318.

[15] Simonsfeld, “Itinerario di Germania,” 284.

[16] Admittedly, also the mentioned “bagatelle” remain unidentified.

[17] Simonsfeld, “Itinerario di Germania,” 316.

[18] The instrument name “ribebe” is indeed often found in Italy, for example in Boccacio’s Decamerone (Nona giornata, Novella quinta: “Ma laltro di recata la ribeba con gran dilecto di tutta la brigata canto piu canzoni con essa.”) Concerning this, see also the essay by Thilo Hirsch <Link>.

[19] An evaluation of the so-called Commemorative Books might show a different picture, since apparently only remarks concerning the singers and the court choir have been published up to now (Hertha Schweiger, “Archivalische Notizen zur Hofkantorei Maximilians I.,” in: ZfMw 14 (1931/32), 363–374).

[20] Augsburg, Baumeisterbuch fol. 28 (cited after the typescript “Sammlung von Quellen zur Musikgeschichte bis 1600 in Städten und an Fürstenhöfen” by Gerhard Pietzsch in D-Mbs, Abteilung Nachlässe und Handschriften, Ana 396).

[21]  Keith Polk, “Patronage, Imperial Image, and the Emperor’s Musical Retinue: On the Road with Maximilian I,” in Musik und Tanz zur Zeit Kaiser Maximilians I. – Bericht über die am 21. und 22. Oktober 1989 in Innsbruck abgehaltene Fachtagung, edited by Walter Salmen, Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft 15 (Innsbruck: Helbing 1992), 79– 88, 82; idem, German Instrumental Music, 91. See also Markus Grassl, “Zur instrumentalen Ensemblemusik am Hof Maximilians I.,” in Die Wiener Hofmusikkapelle I; Georg von Slatkonia und die Wiener Hofmusikkapelle, edited by Theophil Antonicek, Elisabeth Theresia Hilscher, and Hartmut Krones (Vienna etc.: Böhlau, 1999, 201–12, 211.

[22] Appointment decree in HHSTA Vienna, AUR 1519 XII/7; cited here after Ernst Hintermaier, “Erzbischof Matthäus Lang – Ein Mäzen der Musik im Dienst Kaiser Maximilian I.: Musiker und Musikpflege am Salzburger Fürstenhof von 1519 bis 1540,” in Salzburg zur Zeit des Paracelsus: Musiker, Gelehrte, Kirchenfürsten: Katalog zur 2. Sonderausstellung der Johann-Michael-Haydn-Gesellschaft in Zusammenarbeit mit der Erzabtei St. Peter “Musik in Salzburg zur Zeit des Paracelsus, edited by Ernst Hintermeier (Salzburg: Selke, 1993), 29–40, 38.

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