This is an abridged reprint of the 1723 edition of Filippo Bonanni's "Gabinetto Armonico," with 152 engravings by Arnold van Westerhout. There are 7 pages of introduction with a list of engravings, 19 pages for the index and a catalog of titles by Dover publishing (presumably outdated), and 305 pages of the book itself.
This is essentially a visual catalog of musical instruments and other noisemakers of antiquity, from ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, India, Persia, and North Africa to medieval Europe. The basic format is one page of text (about a paragraph on average) and one 4.5" x 6.5" engraving per instrument. All the original artwork is here, but nearly none of the original text. Instead, the editors have condensed the original writings into "captions" that provide basic information about the purpose, usage, history and sound of the instruments, and often, corrections to Bonanni's text.
Many different instrument types are included. Horns, strings, organs, and percussion instruments of many varieties are accompanied by a sizeable selection of non musical noise makers, such as hunting horns, bird whistles, voice amplifiers, and military and religious ceremonial instruments.
The engravings are more informative than artistic. Almost every image is a full body portrait of a player with an instrument set against a nondescript outdoor background. As much attention, if not more, is given to the player and his/her clothes as the actual instruments. None of the images are particularly frame worthy, but all are clear and reproduced very well in this printing.
There are some problems worth mentioning. One is that the editors' captions make it clear that the original work should not be read as a reliable historical document. Many entries are noted as being inaccurate, if not entirely imagined. Another problem is that Bonanni's world view was apparently as antiquated as his subject matter (not entirely unexpected for a work of the early 18th century). The captions and engravings occasionally allude to the author's fantasies of exotic, naked simpletons dancing by the fire with their crude yet amusing whirlywoos. Of the maraca, Bonanni writes that it was used by "savages who know no better instrument." I assume that overt racism played some part in Driver's decision not to use the original text or to print another edition of the book thus far. This is unfortunate, as the book has significant historical value and deserves a proper reissue.
This isn't a scientific or comprehensive work (unfortunately it lacks a bibliography). It's a historical record, albeit with the biases they often entail. There is some interesting music history here that's unlikely to be found in the average history book. This book should appeal to art, music and history aficionados, and would make a good companion piece to the Getty Museum's "Music in Art" from their excellent Guide to Imagery series.