The Cantigas de Santa Maria are a wealth of information on musical instruments in the Middle Ages. Usually musical instruments are depicted for some purpose other than just showing instruments. In the Cantigas we have pictures of instruments for the sake of presenting the instruments. Since the major source of information on stringed instruments of the Middle Ages comes from pictorial and iconagraphic sources it is critical to present these primary sources.
The entire approach to musical instrument construction differs from later time periods. We are familiar with the great masters of the Seventeenth Century and many propose their work to be the culmination of centuries of development leading to the arrival of perfection.
This view is simplistic at best.Construction of instruments in the Middle Ages, first and foremost, was a visual art aswell as an auditory one. Yes, the instruments must be functional but they must also be pleasing to the eye. A cathedral could be functional but the concept of visual beauty created much more than functionality -- part of the function is in the beauty and cannot be seperated..
Most instruments in the string family had bodies carved from a single block of wood – the back and sides of the instrument, and sometimes the neck and peg-box were all from a single block of wood. Medieval artists had the knowledge and ability to create instruments as they were constructed in the Renaissance, using slabs of wood bent to form sides and attached to a separate back. There were good reasons for not doing so.