Renaissance-style viols of different sizes

As with many things that have been around for over 500 years, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when and where the viol first appeared. The moment certainly wasn’t captured on video! While competing theories exist, the instrument is widely regarded to have originated in fifteenth-century Spain where the practice of bowing an instrument held vertically between the knees was borrowed from the Moorish rabab and applied to the Spanish vihuela—itself a predecessor of the guitar. This bowed vihuela is thought to have made its way from Spain to Italy where it thrived and developed, branching into various sizes, collectively known as the viola da gamba family, which spread from there into Northern Europe. The gamba played an important role in European music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras.