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1566 - 1734

Two centuries of Cremonese violinmaking

Amati, Stradivari, Guarneri, Rogeri at the Museo del Violino - Cremona

Museo del Violino - Cremona The Treasure Trove
Since the mid 16th century, both the history of violin making and the lives ofthe luthiers who have marked the evolution of this instrument have been inextricablybound up with the history of Cremona.

Long ago in 1539, at the time when the town was surrounded by high defensive walls, a craftsman rented a house and its annexed workshop.
It was the place where the first Cremonese violin maker Andrea, Amati (c.1505-1577), lived and crafted his extraordinary instruments, among which violins, violas and cellos for the Spanish Court of Philip II and for the French king Charles IX’s orchestra. When he died in 1577, his sons Antonio (c.1540-1607) and Girolamo (c.1548-1630) took over a fully flourishing workshop.

Andrea’s heirs used to label their instruments with both their names, and Girolamo continued to use the same label long after the death of his brother; early on in his career, his son Nicolò (1596-1684) had started to assist in his workshop. Girolamo died in the 1630 plague epidemic leaving Nicolò alone to run the workshop.
That same year, the death of the luthier Giovanni Paolo Maggini in the nearb town of Brescia marked the end of the local violin making tradition.

The rise of Nicolo’s workshop was extraordinary and, in order to meet his increasing commissions, he soon required the aid of young apprentices, including his familio Andrea Guarneri (1623-1698).
The mid 17th century was a time of great creativity for Andrea Amati’s nephew. In 1649 his son Girolamo II (1649-1740) was born: everything seemed to indicate that the Amati family would keep its leading role in town for a long time.

However, the situation radically changed after a few decades, when Antonio Stradivari (c.1644-1737) started his career as a violin maker

Antonio Stradivari's first outstanding inlaid violins, the Sunrise (1677) and the Hellier (1679), are examples of his extraordinary craftsmanship that can still be admired today.

In these years, Antonio Stradivari built not only violins, violas and cellos, but also plucked instruments like baroque guitars, mandolins and harps. In the guitars construction, as well as in other instruments built by him, he showed his great ability as a builder and innovator seeking a better sound due to a neck longer than many Baroque guitars of the time, which provided benefits in terms of resonance and rich harmonics.

In those years, the workshops of the Guarneri and Rugeri families were also active in town. Francesco (c.1620-1698) was the first violin maker of the Rugeri, a lesser known but nonetheless important Cremonese family of luthiers; beside Francesco, his four sons Giovanni Battista (1653-1711), Vincenzo (1661-1719), Giacinto (1663-1697) e Carlo (1666-1713) were also violin makers.

In those years, the workshops of the Guarneri and Ruger families were also active in town. Andrea Guarneri worked until the end of the century and left his son Giuseppe (1666-c.1740) the difficult task of taking over in his workshop; his other son Pietro (1655-1720), also a violin maker, moved to Mantova.

At the beginning of year 1700 Antonio Stradivari establishes himself definitively. Nicolo Amati was died some years before. His son Girolamo II was unable to continue the family business. A few years later, the economic situation of the Guarneri family was not prosperous and in later years the business of the Rugeri family was less successful.

After year 1700 the “golden” period of Antonio Stradivari begins. In those years he build a large number of instruments considered the best, at the same time for their quality of construction and for their acoustic qualities

His career was long and active, and he was assisted in his work by his sons Francesco (1671-1743) and Omobono (1679-1742). In the years near 1730 being always present in Stradivari’s instruments a strong character, it is possible to see signs of uncertainty in his building quality

In contrast, Giuseppe Guarneri’s sons were not as successful as Stradivari: Pietro II (1695- 1762) moved to Venice while Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698-1744) was troubled with financial difficulties all his life. However, he was recognized posthumous renown: his instruments would be much sought after only during the following century when his name became associated with that of Nicolò Paganini.
Similarly, and despite his conspicuous skills as a craftsman, Girolamo II, last heir of the Amatis, left the town in search of fortune after the ruin of his family’s business – the craft of making instruments in which the Amatis had dominated for over one century.

Antonio Stradivari workshop
How did Antonio Stradivari make his instruments? What tools did he use? What technique? We can answer these questions thanks to hundreds of objects, including drawings, moulds and tools, sold by his last son Paolo to the collector and scholar of antique instruments Conte Cozio di Salabue in Piedmont (Italy) and by his heirs to the violinmaker Giuseppe Fiorini in 1920. Most of these objects were donated by Fiorini to the Town Hall of Cremona in 1930.
Last days of Antonio Stradivari
Antonio Stradivari's Testament, Tombstone, Death record, Burial record

On January 21, 1729 Antonio Stradivari wrote the first version of his testament, which changed during the next nine weeks, instructing a notary to draft the revisions. I, Antonio Stradivari, want this to be my last will as long as mind and body are healthy….”

In the same year, Stradivari obtained in perpetual use the tomb of the Villani family. The tomb was placed in the Chapel of the Beata Vergine del Rosario in the church of S.Domenico in Cremona.
Antonio Stradivari died on December 18th, 1737

Cremona - December 19, 1737 - Act of death of Stradivari

In the year of the Lord 1737 ... Antonio Stradivari, widower, about 95 years old, died yesterday .... “I myself, Domenico Antonio Stancari, pastor of the Church of St. Matthew, today I accompanied her body .... to the Church of the very reverend fathers of San Domenico in Cremona, where he was buried

Cremona - December 19, 1737 - Act of burial of Stradivari

Burial was given to: Sig.re Antonio Stradivari buried in the tomb of Sig.re Francesco Villani in the Cappella del Rosario Parish St. Matteo

In the following years his sons Francesco and Omobono, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù and eventually in 1747 Carlo Bergonzi, died.
This marks the end of the golden period of the Cremonese violinmaking

Credits: Exhibit

Texts: Fausto Cacciatori, Curator at Museo del Violino Cremona

Technical supervision: Roberto Domenichini

Videos:

-Roberto Domenichini - all performances with instruments except Andrea Amati 1566c "Carlo IX" violin and Girolamo Amati 1615 viola
-Mino Boiocchi and Matteo Sessa - performance with Andrea Amati Carlo IX violin
-Cerrato Brothers - performance with Girolamo Amati 1615 viola

Photos:

-Mino Boiocchi - all instruments (except for the Hellier violin, the Rugeri violin and the Sabionari guitar)
-Claudio Mazzolari - Hellier violin
-Cristian Chiodelli - Sabionari guitar
-Alfredo Zagni – Rugeri violin
-Claudio Mazzolari - moulds, drawings, tools and objects belonging to Stradivari
-Mino Boiocchi - The Treasure Trova
-Archivio di Stato di Cremona - last wills and testament of Antonio Stradivari
-Archivio Storico Diocesano di Cremona - Act of death and Act of burial

Credits: All media
The exhibit featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.