Rui Pedro De Oliveira Alves

The trombone as portrayed in Portuguese iconography during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries

This article studies eleven sixteenth and seventeenth century iconographical sources depicting slide brass instruments, by both Portuguese and foreign artists active in Portugal, as well as foreign artists depicting Portuguese scenes. This study addresses questions concerning aspects of trombone technique that have not previously been considered and may have implications in the way the trombone was understood elsewhere in Europe. It focuses on aspects of technique depicted that may be representative of the trombone’s contemporary design and performance and therefore the manner in which the instrument was held and indeed played. Finally, this article suggests a transitional technical period when the way of holding the single-slide trumpet may have been used to play the trombone.

Keywords: iconography, trombone, single-slide trumpet, wind bands, angel musicians


The early development of the trombone and trombone playing in Europe was, since the first reference to its use during the fifteenth century, closely associated with the development of the wind band, which was a regular feature of royal, municipal and ecclesiastical musical establishments. Wind bands became common in Europe through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, playing during royal banquets and processions as well as fulfilling military roles. The earliest bands were comprised solely of woodwind instruments—shawms—and commonly referred to as shawm bands. In the late years of the fourteenth century, other instruments such as trumpets, bagpipes and drums were added1. The shawm band has been extensively studied, and although our understanding of its role has been enhanced by authors including Keith Polk, Kenneth Kreitner and Herbert Myers, some questions regarding the formation of the band, the instruments used and the repertoire in certain parts of Europe remain unanswered. Band formation and the inclusion of a single slide instrument (the slide trumpet) have been particular focal points in debates. During the late fourteenth century, advances in metal-working techniques made it possible to fashion long straight trumpets into an S-shape. The need for an instrument capable of playing the contratenor voice in the shawm band appears to have encouraged the development of the slide mechanism by the early fifteenth century (Polk, 1997, pp.45–6; Herbert, 2006, pp.52–3). The idea that the slide trumpet developed from the fixed-length S-shape is generally accepted.

Iconography has been central to the scholarly debate regarding the development of the trombone and its evolution from a single- to a double-slide instrument, Downey (1984) challenges the consensus that the fifteenth century brass instrument of the shawm band was a single-slide trumpet and that this represented an evolutionary stage in the development of the double-slide trombone, basing his argument on a panel by Hans Memling, c.1460. Downey proposes that the handgrip used here, with the left hand holding the instrument close to the mouthpiece and right hand supporting the full weight of the static body of the instrument, does not suggest movement of the sounding part of the trumpet. He suggests that this concurs with the handgrip used by trumpeters before cordage was wrapped around the fixed-length trumpets. Downey suggests that the elongated length of the instrument could be explained by the simple addition of a lead-pipe, which would lower its pitch2. In summary, Downey’s work, which questions the existence of the slide trumpet, encourages debate on this matter, although it does not affect the overall consensus that the single-slide trumpet not only existed, but also played an important role in the history of the trombone.

In Portugal, this instrument was referred to as the trumpet of the shawm band (trombeta das charamelas). The instrument was likely introduced to Portugal by Flemish players in royal service. The earliest reference to a brass player in the Portuguese royal shawm band appears in a letter from King Afonso V to Janim de Reste, trumpeter of the shawm band (trombeta dos nossos charamelas), granting him the privilege to ride a mule, in 1453/4. The term trombeta das charamelas appears for the last time in Portugal in a 1465 privilege letter granting Johã De Reste (likely a relative of Janim De Reste) the right to adopt his stepdaughter. The earliest literary references to the trombone (sacabuxa)3 emerge in the Chronicles of King João II, written by the royal chronicler Garcia de Resende, describing royal ceremonies taking place on 11 May 1455 and 20 October 1499 (De Oliveira Alves, 2013). The use of the term sacabuxa here suggests an instrument with a slide system, although the question arises as to whether it was a trombone or a single-slide trumpet (De Oliveira Alves, 2013).

Between the late fifteenth century and first half of the nineteenth century, the physical characteristics of the trombone changed very little. It consisted of three basic parts (the mouthpiece, the U-shaped slide and the bell section), although the early double-slide instruments may have been demountable into several more parts. Some design features of the earlier trombones (see Figure 1, below, for details of ferrules and flat stays) have led scholars such as McGowan (1996, p.94) to propose that these instruments could be of a loose construction and therefore reassembled as single-slide instruments as required.

In the absence of surviving instruments, and music that specifically calls for the use of the trombone during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, iconography is crucial to the understanding of performance contexts in which the trombone was used. Whilst the interpretation of iconographical sources can help to understand aspects of historical performance practice, instrument design and construction, and repertoire, it is essential to consider the historical background of the sources and any associated symbolism. Problematic issues surrounding the use of iconographical sources relate to artistic licence, false perspective, distortion of three-dimensional subjects depicted in two dimensions, the representation of movement, whether the source is original or a copy and whether it has undergone restoration or alteration. Various scholars, notably Erwin Panofsky (1955), Emanuel Winternitz (1972, 1979) and James McKinnon (1984), have highlighted the issues surrounding the use of iconography for musicological research and provide a clear overview of the major issues of iconographical interpretation and the context in which instruments were used. Moreover, scholars including Brown (1995) highlight the difficulties of analysing iconographical evidence, with special focus on design features of the recorder, which can often be mistaken for a shawm or even a trumpet (Brown, 1995). Other scholars, including Trindade (1999), whose work has focussed on Portuguese sources—including some of the depictions studied here—demonstrate that iconographical analyses can provide valuable evidence of the physical characteristics of instruments, the manner in which they were played and their role in society (Trindade et al. 1999).

The earliest surviving representation of a trombone as we know it today is Filippino Lippi’s Assumption of the Virgin dating from c.1488–1493 in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. However, it has also been suggested that other sources, such as the Master of the Lyversberger Passion’s The Coronation of the Virgin (c.1485, Alte Pinakothek, Munich) and Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi, lo Scheggia’s mid-fifteenth century Cassone Adimari (Galleria Accademia, Florence), depict trombones (Myers, 2005, p.8; Herbert, 2006, p.60). Focusing on iconography portraying the trombone, Myers (2005) draws attention to aspects of the instrument’s proportion, dimension and design features, with the aim of establishing whether or not the instrument in question in earlier iconographical sources was a single-slide trumpet or indeed a trombone. Crucial to this study are eleven sixteenth and seventeenth century iconographical sources depicting slide brass instruments, by both Portuguese and foreign artists active in Portugal, as well as by foreign artists depicting Portuguese scenes4. These sources show evidence of shawm bands with trombones and on one occasion with a single-slide trumpet, as well as a sculpture of a musical angel playing what appears to be a single-slide trumpet.

Portuguese iconographic sources depicting brass instruments with a slide

Figure 1.Figure 1: Mestre de 1515, Assumption of the Virgin (Assunção da Virgem do Retábulo da Madre de Deus), 1515, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 1278 Pint, Lisbon.

Commissioned by Queen Dona Leonor, widow of King João II, this depiction was part of the altarpiece of the Convento da Madre de Deus in Lisbon5. The Virgin is portrayed in the centre, surrounded by seventeen musical angels with instruments including a lute, harp, viola and a psaltery, with a three-hole flute depicted on the left. On the right hand side, there is a shawm band, a trumpet ensemble, and a group of singing angels (see Figure 1a, below). The three trumpeters depicted in the top right-hand corner above the singers are not playing, and hold their instruments close to the mouthpiece over their shoulders with the bells facing backwards, displaying folded banners (see Figure 1a)6.

The shawm band appears to be playing with the singers (who are depicted above the wind ensemble and seen singing from a manuscript score). The shawm band consists of three woodwind double-reed instruments (shawms and bombards) and a trombone7. The various reed instruments illustrated show distinctive physical and mechanical details, suggesting that the artist was aware of the existence of different types of shawms (see detail of the hexagonal section of the bombard in Figure 1b, below). However, the artist depicts the shawm player, first instrument from the left, with his left hand placed on the lower part of the instrument8. The bells of the shawms also appear to be out of proportion compared to the other instruments depicted.

The brass instrument depicted in the shawm band resembles the modern trombone. However, not all structural elements of the present-day trombone are evident in this depiction. The bell stay connecting the two parts of the bell section and the static inner slide stay are both missing. The absence of a second, or even third, stay would make the instrument very unstable (see Figures 1a and 2)9. The movable outer slide stay is not visible, yet the way the right hand of the player is illustrated suggests the existence of one. The right handgrip appears to be underhand with the slide in a horizontal position, while the left hand is not visible (see Figure 1b). Most importantly, the trombone is held with the bell on the right-hand side of the player’s head. The existence of two nodules at the connection point between slides and slide bow at the base of the U-shape slide suggests the artist was aware of different design elements of the trombone such as the existence of ferrules or claps (connection points) and agrees with McGowan’s suggestion of a loose construction of the trombone (McGowan, 1996, p.94)1o. The trombone player appears to have inflated cheeks, with a centred embouchure. This may represent the artist attempting to depict the action of blowing or may be indicative of a rudimentary stage of the blowing technique. Some of the first brass specialists writing on the subject of embouchure, including Bendinelli in 1614 and Altemburg in 1795, considered this aspect of playing technique a bad practice and one that should be abandoned (Wallace and McGrattan, 2012, pp.57–58; Tarr, 1988, pp.85–86).

Figure 1a.Figure 1a: Detail of angel musicians from Mestre de 1515. Shawm band plays (likely a motet) alongside singers. Trumpet ensemble depicted not playing.
Figure 1b.Figure 1b: Detail of trombone player’s handgrip from the Mestre de 1515. Design details featured: Slide bow and ferrules of trombone and hexagonal barrilete of bombard. Detail of bell’s ferrules and missing stays (both the bell and slide stays). Technical elements: inflated cheeks and embouchure; details of underhand grip of trombone player’s right hand.
Figure 2.Figure 2: Trombone with two flat stays (Virdung, 1511). The plate used here is likely the same used in Agricola (1529) and Luscinius (1536, p.23).
Figure 3.Figure 3: Detail of a shawm band and its master by Mestre do Retábulo de Santa Auta [Workshop of Lisbon led by Afonso Jorge], from The Encounter of Prince Conan and St Ursula (Casamento de Santa Úrsula com o Principe Conan), c.1522/1525, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 1462, Lisbon (from right hand side of the reader: a bombard, trombone, shawm, bombard, shawm, bombard, and on top between the two last musicians the master of the shawm band).

The depiction was formerly part of a triptych depicting different stages of St Ursula’s life by the Mestre do Retábulo de Santa Auta from the Workshops of Lisbon led by Afonso Jorge1111. Additionally, according to Lowe (2005), this specific panel (The Encounter of Prince Conan and St Ursula), may depict the wedding ceremonies of King João III to his first cousin, Princess Catherine of Castile (or Burgundy) in 1525 (Lowe, 2005, p.158). Positioned in the top right corner of this depiction is the earliest known representation of a renaissance wind band formed exclusively of black musicians (see Figure 3)12.

The depiction provides details of physical and mechanical aspects of the woodwind instruments. The bombard player is holding the instrument with his left hand positioned on the lower part of the instrument. This may represent some level of artistic licence or misrepresentation. The brass instrument depicted shows most of the trombone’s physical features in place, with inner and outer flat slide stays (the section of the instrument where a third stay would be positioned is not visible). The handgrip of the left hand is overhand, holding the slide section close to the mouthpiece. The right hand holds the slide stay in an underhand manner, allowing good slide movement. The slide (depicted extended) appears to be in proportion with the rest of the instrument. Similar to the depiction by the artist Mestre of 1515 (see Figure 1, above) the trombone is rotated and the slide is in a horizontal position with identical handgrip to that used on the slide trumpet. Furthermore, the bell is located on the right-hand side of the player’s head. Here too, the trombone player has inflated cheeks with centred embouchure.

Figure 3.Figure 3a: Detail of the trombone player’s handgrip from Mestre do Retábulo de Santa Auta (underhand movable slide and overhand around mouth pipe section) and trombone with two flat stays (inner and outer slide stays).
Figure 4.Figure 4: Oficina de Lisboa (attributed), Assumption of Setúbal (Assunção de Setúbal), c.1519/20–1530, Museu Municipal de Setúbal, Setúbal.

This depiction (Figure 4) was commissioned by Queen Dona Leonor and showcases the ascension into Heaven of the Virgin, surrounded by two groups of musical angels: on the left, four singing angels and on the right, a shawm band including a trombone and three shawms. The two groups of musicians appear to be playing together. Indeed, this correlates with contemporary accounts by royal chronicler Garcia de Resende where singers, organs and shawm bands are depicted playing together during the exhumation ceremonies and reburial of King João II on 20 October 149913. While the Assumption of Setúbal presents a very detailed representation of a trombone with three flat stays (inner and outer slide stays and bell stay) it does show a few irregularities. The player’s left hand holds the outer movable slide stay (instead of the inner static slide stay) in an overhand manner, making it impossible for the right hand to actually move the slide. Similar to other contemporary depictions of trombones, the slide appears to be extended, suggesting movement. However, the position of the stays suggests the slide is in a closed position. Particular physical detail is displayed on the bell garland as well as the mouthpiece. Here the player is again depicted with inflated cheeks and holds the instrument on the right-hand side. A clear distinction between the two types of woodwind instruments depicted is accentuated by the particular physical details of the bombard. However, when comparing the woodwind instruments with the trombone, the dimensions of the bells of the woodwind appear to be exaggerated in relation to that of the trombone (see Figure 4a, below). Few surviving contemporary iconographical depictions pay attention to proportion (Duffin, 2000, p.388). Even so, this may represent an attempt to depict the different instruments of the shawm family. In one such case, however, perspective awareness may be taken into account, especially since surviving instruments show a significant difference in the size of the bells of the shawm, which are significantly smaller that those of the early trombone.

Figure 4a.Figure 4a: Detail of a shawm band from the Oficina de Lisboa (attributed).
Figure 5.Figure 5: Gregório Lopes (attributed), Assumption of the Virgin (Assunção da Virgem), first quarter of the sixteenth century, Museu da Música, M.M. 1085, Lisbon14.

This depiction (Figure 5) follows the same Marian theme of the ascending Virgin surrounded by musical angels (as discussed above) with a similar group of depicted musical instruments: on the left-hand side, lute and rabeca, and on the right, shawms and a trombone, together with a trio of singers. The trombone’s bell section, with flat stay and ferrules, is extended a considerable distance from the back of the player’s head. The inner fixed slide stay is not visible and the trombone is held with the left hand close to the mouthpiece in an overhand manner. The player operates the slide with his right hand, using a similar handgrip to the standard modern trombone, thus suggesting movement. The slide, although depicted in an extended position, appears foreshortened. The position of the trombone on the right hand side of the player’s head is consistent with the depictions described above, as it is the representation of trombone player’s embouchure with puffed cheeks.

Figure 5a.Figure 5a: Detail of a shawm band from Gregório Lopes (attributed).
Figure 6.Figure 6: Cristovão de Utreque (attributed), Assumption of the Virgin (Assunção da Virgem), first quarter of the sixteenth century, Museu Municipal Leonel Trindade, 331, Torres Vedras.

The Virgin is surrounded by musical angels, four singers and a shawm player on the left-hand side, three shawms and a trombone on the right and two other shawm players in the two lower corners of the painting (Figure 6). The wind band appears to be playing alongside the four singers who are reading from a music manuscript. The trombone is depicted with two flat slide stays and a flat bell stay. The instrument is held with the left hand in an overhand manner away from the mouthpiece, below the inner slide fixed flat stay. The slide is operated with the right hand in an underhand grip while the arm is outstretched. However, similar to other contemporary depictions of the trombone, the slide is portrayed foreshortened. The bell of the trombone is positioned on the right-hand side of the player’s head (see Figure 6a, below).

Figure 6a.Figure 6a: Detail of trombone from Cristovão de Utreque (attributed).
Figure 7.Figure 7: Detail of a shawm band by Friar Carlos Taborda Vlame (Frei Carlos), Assumption of the Virgin (Assunção da Virgem), c.1520–153015, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 82 Pint, Lisbon.

The depiction (Figure 7) was painted at the workshops of Espinheiro led by the Flemish Mestre Taborda Vlame to form part of the main and collateral altars of the Espinheiro Convent in Évora. The depiction is divided into two, accentuating both the divine and mundane aspects of the life of the Virgin—Heaven and Earth16. The upper level or plan of the depiction, studied here, represents the Virgin surrounded by two groups of musical angels: on the left singers and an organ player with a portable organ (orgão positivo) and on the right a shawm band comprised of two shawms, a bombard and a trombone. The instruments depicted display unlikely design characteristics. The trombone in particular features a very large bell with an abrupt tightening of the bell flare which extends uniformly into the remainder of the bell section and into the slide section (there is also no evidence of a bell stay). The player holds the instrument with the left hand on the inner slide stay next to the mouthpiece, in an overhand manner. The slide is operated with the right hand in an underhand manner. While the outer slide stay under the player’s right hand is not visible, the position of the hand on the slide suggests the existence of one (see Figure 7a, below). The player’s body appears to be slightly bent with his right arm outstretched, thus suggesting slide movement. The embouchure of the player is centred with inflated cheeks and the instrument is held on the right-hand side of the player’s head. Similarly, the shawms present exaggerated dimensions whilst the bells, especially the bombard’s (second from the left), are particularly large. The bombard player is holding the instrument with his left hand on its lower part.

Figure 7a.Figure 7a: Detail of trombone player from Friar Carlos Taborda Vlame.
Figure 8.Figure 8: Detail of shawm band from Mestres de Ferreirim (Cristovão de Figueiredo, Gregório Lopes and Garcia Fernandes), Assumption of the Virgin (Assunção da Virgem), c.1520–1540, Igreja Matriz de Sardoura, Castelo de Paiva.

In this depiction (Figure 8) the Virgin is surrounded by musical angels: on the left-hand side by an organ player and singers, and on the right by a shawm band. The trombone depicted features details of ferrules on the bell, flat bell stay, and bell bow. The slide has inner and outer flat stays and there are also two rings: one on the bell and one on the slide bow. The trombone player holds the instrument with his left hand in an identical manner to the modern handgrip, close to the static inner slide stay. The slide is operated by the right hand, also in an identical handgrip to the modern trombone technique, with the hand holding the slide around the outer movable slide stay. The embouchure of the trombone player is again depicted with inflated cheeks.

The two following iconographic sources represent two sixteenth century depictions of what appear to be single-slide trumpets: a sculpture by French artist Jean de Rouen dated 153517, and a Flemish tapestry from the Workshop of Bartholomeus Adriaensz in Brussels, completed between 1555 and 1560.

Figure 9.Figure 9: Detail of an angel musician playing what appears to be a single-slide trumpet from Jean de Rouen (João de Ruão), Music Angels (Anjos Músicos), 1535, Museu Nacional Machado de Castro, E97, Coimbra.

This limestone sculpture (Figure 9) depicts an angel playing what appears to be a single-slide trumpet which features a long pipe connecting the mouthpiece to the main body of the instrument. While the left hand holds the instrument halfway along the descending slide pipe, the right hand is depicted holding the main body of the instrument with an overhand grip. This manner of holding the instrument would be more suitable for a natural trumpet without a moving slide and, although feasible on the single-slide trumpet, the overhand grip would reduce the movement of the instrument’s main body. Moreover, the position of the left hand halfway along the mouth pipe would equally reduce the already limited movement of the slide trumpet.

Figure 10.Figure 10: Detail of a shawm band with slide trumpet from Bartholomeus Adriaensz (tapestry) and Michel Coxcie (drawings), Entrance of Dom João de Castro in Goa (A entrada triunfal de D. João de Castro na Cidade de Goa em 22 de Abril de 1547), c.1555–1560, Kunsthistorisches Museum, TXXII 10, Vienna.

This tapestry is part of a group of ten panels depicting the History of Dom João de Castro, Portuguese Viceroy of Goa in India, with particular focus on his conquests and achievements between 1546 and 1547. It was commissioned by his son Dom Alvaro de Castro18. This tapestry (number three in the series of Dom João de Castro) depicts the entrance of the Viceroy in Goa on the 22 April 1547. The events have been correspondingly recorded in the chronicles of Portuguese Gaspar Correia (1858) in his Lendas da India whilst most of the elements depicted agree with the named chronicles. The depiction shows a shawm band comprising three shawms and a brass instrument which appears to be a single-slide trumpet, and presents one of the latest representations of a shawm band with a single-slide trumpet. The event depicted occurred at a time when the trombone was already a well-established instrument in the shawm band. However, the fact that the single-slide trumpet is depicted here may suggest that the instrument was still in use in the middle of the sixteenth century. Another view would be that the artist was still using earlier musical iconographic elements in his tapestries. The single-slide trumpet player holds the instrument with his left hand on the descending slide pipe with two fingers over the border of the mouthpiece, fixing it against his lips. The right hand operates the main body of the single-slide trumpet in an underhand grip manner, extended and retracted along the slide pipe.

Figure 11.Figure 11: Vasco Pereira Lusitano, Coronation of the Virgin (Coroação da Virgem), 1605, Museu Carlos Machado, Azores.

The last Portuguese depiction of trombones in the shawm band studied here is a Coronation of the Virgin from the beginning of the seventeenth century (Figure 11). A group of musical angels surround the Virgin in the centre, including one trombone on each side. The player on the right, appearing to be reading from a score, holds the trombone in a manner close to modern technique (see Figure 11a, below). The player on the left holds the trombone with the right hand and the slide is operated by the left hand. The bell section on this trombone is also extremely elongated compared to the size of the instrument, meaning that the slide section appears foreshortened. These features seem unrealistic and may perhaps be attributed to artistic licence.

Figure 11a.Figure 11a: Detail of trombone player on the right-hand side of the depiction from Vasco Pereira Lusitano.


Documentary sources can date the use of a brass instrument in the shawm band—the trumpet of the shawm band (trombeta das charamelas), likely a single-slide trumpet—in Portugal between 1453 and 1465. Although the term sacabuxa, which is described by royal chronicler Garcia de Resende in the chronicles of King João II in Portugal, is likely a slide instrument, it remains uncertain whether this instrument was fitted with a single- or a double-slide system. There are also no references to trombones or sacabuxa(s) from Royal Court records during the second half of the fifteenth century. The transition between the use of the single-slide trumpet and the use of the trombone in Portugal was perhaps taking place between 1465 (the date of the last reference to the trombeta das charamelas) and 1499. The study of Portuguese sixteenth century iconographic sources establishes that the trombone in Portugal was in use by 1515—although it is likely that the single-slide trumpet was still in use—and, by c.1520–1540, trombones start to be depicted on the left-hand side of their player’s head (the standard modern position). These depictions also reveal a range of design elements and physical features of these instruments, suggesting that the earlier trombones were of a loose construction with flat stays (thus easily reassembled as a single-slide trumpet as required). It is feasible that in the earliest references to the trombone in the late fifteenth century and the early depictions of the trombone on the left-hand side of the player’s head, the two instruments were—for practical reasons—held in a similar manner with the left hand close to the mouthpiece in an overhand fashion and the right hand positioned over the flat slide stay in an underhand fashion.

The majority of sources depict the trombone in the shawm band in religious scenes, although on one occasion (see Figure 10) the shawm band (with a single-slide trumpet) is depicted fulfilling a more secular role. Moreover, they provide some evidence of the way in which the trombone may have been played, the most apparent being the way the trombone was held. The manner in which the instrument is held in these sources—with the main body of the instrument placed on the right-hand side of the player’s head (in opposition to the standard modern left-hand side)—deserves special consideration and prompts a re-evaluation of this aspect of playing the instrument as it is portrayed in depictions from elsewhere in Europe.

Carter (2012) provides the most comprehensive collection of sixteenth century iconographical sources from around the world, depicting the trombone or a trombone-like instrument. At least 31 of the 62 depictions of trombones presented by Carter show the trombone on the right-hand side of the player’s head19. This number does not include the Portuguese sources. In Germany, 26 of the 45 sources show the trombone on the right-hand side of the player’s head. In comparison, the percentage of the iconographical sources depicting the trombone on the right-hand side of the player’s head in Portugal is higher than elsewhere in Europe. However, if this manner of holding the instrument did indeed occur, it seems unlikely that this would have been particular to Portugal alone. Although factors such as artistic licence influencing the process of depicting these instruments should be taken into consideration, there is sufficient iconographical evidence in this study to—at least—suggest that this could have possibly been the case and therefore prompt a re-evaluation of contemporary iconography and encourage debate on this matter.


  1. See Polk (1997) for a more detailed chronology of the development of the shawm band.[]
  2. In a brass instrument the lead-pipe is a tube of variable shape and size where the mouthpiece is placed. Lead-pipes are generally soldered to the instrument. However, in some instruments they may be detachable, movable and interchangeable.
  3. The term sacabuxa is used in Portugal to refer to a brass instrument with a moving slide system, the trombone. The earliest entry of the term sacabuxa in a Portuguese dictionary appears in Hierónimo Cardoso’s 1562 Dictionarium ex Lusitanico in Latinum sermonem, which is considered to be the earliest surviving Portuguese-Latin dictionary: Sacabuxa. Tubaductilis, ſábuca/æ (p.95).
  4. The depictions are, unless stated otherwise, catalogued in the database of the Portuguese Institute of Museums and Conservation (Instituto dos Museus e da Conservação). The Institute preserves information of the holdings of the major Portuguese museums. Full images (and details), dates and locations of the depictions are in accordance with this database (see <>).
  5. According to Gaio (1989), most scholars agree the Mestre de 1515 to be Afonso Jorge.
  6. Royal Court records for 4 January 1514/15, show clothing allowance to three trumpeters of the King, Pedro Vicente, João de Évora and João de Final. These players might be the same depicted here (De Oliveira Alves, 2013).
  7. Royal Court records (clothing allowance) for 15 May 1515 provide the names of the following royal shawm band players: Alberto de Arsia (charameleiro), Adrião da Marcha (charameleiro), Cornélio (charameleiro) and Luís de Flanders (charameleiro) (De Oliveira Alves, 2013).
  8. Woodwind players are frequently depicted showing this handgrip fashion during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. See Carter (2012) for a more comprehensive list of iconographical sources.
  9. The 1511 depiction of a trombone from Sebastian Virdung’s (1511) Musica Getutsch also shows only two flat-stays (one bell stay and one slide stay).
  10. See also McGowan (1994).
  11. In the past, different artists have been appointed as the possible creator of the depictions: Vasco Fernandes (by Cyrillo Volkmar Machado), Cristóvão de Figueiredo (by José de Figueiredo and Reinaldo dos Santos), Gregório Lopes (by José de Figueiredo) and Garcia Fernandes (by Luís Reis Santos)(<>) (accessed 2 September 2013).
  12. These players are likely six of the seven slave musicians named in the testament of Duke Dom Jayme of Braganza (De Oliveira Alves, 2013).
  13. ‘Singers and clerics started the Response, the prior the Preces (or prayers), all in a very divine manner, and the Mass was played with organs, shawms, trombones (& a Missa soy tangida cõ orgaõs charamelas, sacabuxas)… the body was then brought inside the chapel by the bishops whilst the singers sang the chant of Zacharias, Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, with so many voices and instruments (com tantas vozes, & estromentos) and devotion that everyone was crying‘ [translation by author] (Resende, 1554, pp.117–117V).
  14. Gregório Lopes (1470–1550) was subsequently royal painter of both Kings Manuel I and João III.
  15. Trindade et al. (1999) date this depiction to 1535.
  16. According to Trindade et al. (1999), the two different levels of the depiction have been painted by different authors.
  17. Coimbra-based French artist João de Ruão (Jean de Rouen) was one of the most distinguished artists (sculptor and architect) of the Portuguese Renaissance. Ruão was brought to Portugal by request of King Manuel I in 1517/8. The sculpture (Music Angels) originally formed part of the Monastery of Santa Maria de Celas in Coimbra and is now held at the Machado de Castro National Museum.
  18. The presence of the coats of arms of both the Viceroy and his son, Alvaro de Castro, confirm the content of the scene depicted.
  19. The majority of the depictions presented in Carter (2012) show brass instruments with a slide system. However it is not always possible to ascertain whether some instruments are in fact trombones, proto-trombones or single-slide trumpets. Thus, the number of trombones depicted on the right-hand side of the player’s head may—in different contexts—be considered higher or, indeed, lower.


  • Brown, H.M., 1995. The recorder in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In: J. M. Thomson, ed. The Cambridge companion to the recorder. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Carter, S., 2012. The trombone in the Renaissance: a history in pictures and documents. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press.
  • Downey, P., 1984. The Renaissance slide trumpet: fact or fiction? Early Music, 12(1), pp.26–33. <>.
  • Duffin, R.W., 2000. A performer’s guide to medieval music. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Gaio, A.I., 1989. Sociedade, cultura e mentalidades na época do cancioneiro geral. Congresso Internacional Bartolomeu Dias e a sua epoca, 4, pp.251–58.
  • Herbert, T., 2006. The trombone, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Luscinius, O., 1536. Musurgia seu praxis musicae, Strasbourg: Joannem Schottum.
  • McGowan, K., 1996. A chance encounter with a unicorn? A possible sighting of the Renaissance slide trumpet. Historic Brass Society Journal, 8, pp.90–101.
  • McGowan, K., 1994. The world of the early sackbut player: flat or round? Early Music, 22(3), pp.441–466. <>.
  • McKinnon, J.W., 1984. The fifteen temple steps and the Gradual Psalms. Imago Musicae, 1, pp.29–50.
  • Myers, H., 2005. Evidence of the emerging trombone in the late fifteenth century: what iconography may be trying to tell us. Historic Brass Society Journal, 17, pp.7–36.
  • de Oliveira Alves, R.P., 2013. The trombone in Portugal before 1850. PhD. University of St Andrews.
  • Panofsky, E., 1955. Meaning in the visual arts, Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • Polk, K., 1997. Brass instruments in art music in the Middle Ages. In: T. Herbert and J. Wallace, eds. The Cambridge companion to brass instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 38–50.
  • Polk, K., 1992. German instrumental music of the late Middle Ages: players, patrons, and performance practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Resende, G. de, 1554. Livro das obras de Garcia de Reesende, que tracta da vida & grandissimas virtudes & bõdades: magnanimo esforço, excelentes costumes & manhas & muy craros feitos do Christianissimo: muito alto & muito poderoso principe el rey dom Joam ho segundo deste nome. Euora: Casa de Andree de Burgos, Impressor do Cardeal Infante.
  • Tarr, E.H., 1988. The trumpet, London: Batsford Ltd.
  • Trindade, M.H., Monteiro, I., Ferreira, M.J. and Doderer, G., 1999. Arte e música: iconografia musical na pintura do séc. XV ao séc. XX. Lisbon: Instituto Português de Museus.
  • Virdung, S., 1511. Musica getutscht, Basel.
  • Wallace, J. and McGrattan, A., 2012. The trumpet. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Winternitz, E., 1972. Accumulation and interpretation of iconographical evidence—verbal versus visual retrieval. In: RIdIM: a new international venture in musical iconography. 2. pp. 655–656. <>.
  • Winternitz, E., 1979. Musical instruments and their symbolism in Western art. 2nd ed. London: Yale University Press.

Dr Rui Pedro De Oliveira Alves graduated from Superior School of Music and Drama in Porto. In 2006 he was offered a scholarship from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to complete a Masters of Music at the Royal Northern College of Music and a Postgraduate Diploma in orchestral training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Rui Pedro is a freelance trombonist and has played, recorded and broadcast live with some of the leading UK orchestras and chamber groups. In 2013, Rui Pedro completed his PhD at the University of St Andrews and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. As a member of the New Wallace Collection, Rui Pedro continues to perform and develop his research interests in the history, repertoire and performance practice of historical brass instruments.