Recently Alexandre Mainz, trombonist in the Royal Opera of Wallonie-Liege (Belgium), sent me the image below from a museum in Antwerp. The painting, which dates from 1493, is attributed to “Master of Frankfurt” and titled, Festival of the Archers (see detail and full image, below).
The instrument could be a trombone. The player is signaling from a tower, which is historically part of the trombone tradition. Artists have had difficulty executing accurate renderings of the trombone from the beginning. My opinion, though, is that it is probably a natural or slide trumpet. In order to call it a trombone, I like to see a slide that extends past the bell and/or a back bow of tubing that extends back past the shoulder. It is also useful to look at the hand position: does it appear that the player is gripping a stay that would enable them to move the slide in and out?
In the case of this painting, all three factors—slide length, back bow length, and slide grip—seem to point away from trombone. It is more likely a natural or slide trumpet. As many readers know, the trombone evolved from the natural and slide trumpet, which makes it a compelling instrument for trombonists exploring the early years of their instrument.
I’m currently working on a broader timeline that features all the major brass instruments, and I look forward to including this charming painting! Thanks, Alexandre!