Despite the absence of the cello from much official histories of Scottish Traditional Music, its presence in the Scottish Tradition has been documented in the iconography of historical painters such as David Allan. The Muses Room in Crathes castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire is perhaps the oldest picture of the cello in Scotland, c.1599. The cello in this picture is described as a viol in Robert Burnett’s book ‘People and Painting’. Unlike modern-day cellos, you can see the frets on this viol, with the typical viol under arm bow hold. The musician looks like she is seated while she plays, indicating the larger size of this instrument. Whilst some of these visual details suggesting we are looking at a viol, there is one striking irregularity. Her instrument clearly shows four strings, in keeping with what we now call a cello (a bass viol would have six strings and six pegs).
In David Allan’s portrait of Niel Gow playing with his brother, you can clearly see four pegs on the cello, not six. This was a time of development for string instruments; from the viol family to what we now refer to as the string family (violins, cellos, violas and double bass). Across Europe the evolution of the cello was well established by the mid sixteenth century.