From Andrea Amati to Stradivari and del Gesù in 12 minutes

October 19, 2017, 10:10 AM · I found this video on Reddit the other day and I thought some of you here might find it interesting as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPh5n0p5dao

It describes the geometry of the pattern of the violins of those three makers using a remarkably small number of variables; he also shows how a few changes lead from Amati to Stradivari and Amati to Guarneri.

Replies (13)

October 19, 2017, 6:24 PM · Kevin Kelly's 4 circle method is an awesome way to play with the artistic style of the violin while staying within the few geometric parameters that have been standardized over the centuries.

I used it for my previous violin form: a Brescian inspired shape. Sadly, the form looked a LOT better than the violin that popped out of it. Back to the workshop!

October 20, 2017, 2:40 AM · Oh, after seeing all these complicated system I am glad a viola maker working with a personal model.
By the way, The Amatis, Strad and del Gesù were all working in personal models.
October 20, 2017, 11:25 AM · But how did they design the first model? They probably got a compass out and traced somethings out on paper or a scrap of wood.
October 21, 2017, 9:51 AM · Steward Pollens wrote a book about the violin forms of Antonio Stradivari in the Cremona Museum (sold out).

Pollens is against the idea of highly complicated formulas for designing the molds:

"Paper body patterns preserved in Cremona may have been preliminary studies for the wood forms. Like the wood forms, the paper patterns lack construction marks associated with a formal system of design. Remmants of rather crudely sketched oulines remain on the perimeters of the paper patterns, suggesting that the designs were freely sketched. Central folds may have been used to asses or adjust left-right symmetry (the sketched outlines often appear to wander on either side of the trimmed edge. A drawing for a viola d'amore (MS no. 344) is quite irregular, though it's outline could have been made symmetrical if folded and cut out." (page 13).

"... ... there are no indications of how new proportions were established or how curves were drafted... ... The relative lack of geometric construction marks on the wood forms and paper patterns is indeed surprising and casts doubt upon theories that propose that Stradivari employed complex geometric schemes in generating the outlines of his forms.

If a formal geometric system of construction was not used to generate the outlines of the forms or paper body patterns, how were they designed? From physical evidence it may be impossible to provide a definitive answer for all the forms; however, when tracing of certain forms are overlaid it becomes clear that Stradivari copied sections of earlier designs (the upper-and certer-bout regions, for example) and changed other areas (such as the lower bouts) to create new models. The design technique was certainly used in the altered forms, where parts of the initial desing were left intact and other areas modified. As mentioned above, a number of designs appear to have been quickly sketched on a folded sheet of paper and then cut out - creating a symetrical pattern wich was then transferred to a wood plank used to make the form." (page 14 of Pollens' book).

But this is a higly controversial issue indeed.

October 21, 2017, 2:17 PM · I wonder if Leonardo da Vinci could have put the geometric idea into local luthiers' heads some years before? After all, he was the greatest polymath of his day, had the mathematics, engineering know-how, and artistry of the highest order, and would have known craftsmen personally. However, if this was indeed so, it would surely have taken many years of experiment and development after Leonardo's death by a number of people before Andrea Amati made the first successful violin using the geometric construction.

The above hypothetical course of events is of course mere supposition because, as far as is known, there is no documentary evidence. Could be a useful sub-plot in a TV historical drama, though!

October 21, 2017, 4:48 PM · The fact is that patrons in Italy during the Renaissance and Baroque were very demanding.... everything had to be beautiful and functional.

If you read Benvenuto Cellinis "Life" (1500 - 1571)you will see that nobles, mercnants, bishops, popes, etc. were very cultured and demanding about their commissions. It could be a candelabra, a salt cellar, a compass, an scupture, or a musical instrument, they would get involved in the commission and would discuss many things about it with the artists.

So, it is not a surprise the the violin desing would incorporate beauty and function.

What I find interesting is that the violin was born as a clean looking instrument, and in that time most things were highly ornamented, including other instruments such as lutes, harpsichords, harps, gambas, etc.

October 21, 2017, 10:08 PM · Luis, the sketch on folded paper and then cutting method could yield something a lot like the formal geometry in the video; when combining that with modifications done via outline on older forms and then more folding and cutting, I think you could do exactly what is outlined in the video. Very neat, thank you for sharing.

You also said: "What I find interesting is that the violin was born as a clean looking instrument, and in that time most things were highly ornamented, including other instruments such as lutes, harpsichords, harps, gambas, etc. "

I find this to be almost more interesting--did they make the violin simple due to a commissioners requests, due to acoustical reasons, or some combination of the two? Or maybe it was to make them easier to make so they could make more of them? I remember reason somewhere that the original conception of the violin was to make an instrument that was easier to play than the devilishly hard virtuoso lute music of the day, and since they succeed there would of been massive demand for fiddles, maybe forcing them to make simpler ones than the lutes or gambas, which then ossified into tradition.

We'll probably never know, but it's a very interesting interplay of several artistic and economic variables I'm sure.

October 22, 2017, 7:19 AM · The creation of the violin may be related to the change in musical taste, the wide dynamic range and "dramma" that the violin provides perhaps was linked to a new kind of music, expression and dance of the period.

The idea of a violin maker working alone is a modern thing. Shops were busy with pupils, and perhaps some parts of the work were made in other shops, as may be the case of the complex ornaments and decoration we see in viols and other instruments of that time. The paintings in those decorated Amati instruments were not made in Amatí's shop.

Perhaps makers saw in the violin "simplicity" a way to work alone, without having to count with the help of other shops, and pay for that.

Roger Hargrave, on the article of del Gesù's methods on the two volume Biddulph's book mentions that:

"In Hamburg, the instrument maker Joachim Tielke (1641-1724) almost
had his shop burnt down to the ground by members of the
woodcarvers’ guild. Tielke had simply been carving heads for his
own viols, rather than purchasing them from a member of the guild.
In Paris, Lafille (c.1760) cut many heads for instrument makers, including
Salomon and Guersan. Several experts believe that Antonio
Stradivari’s son Francesco made most of the post-1700 Stradivari
heads; since Stradivari’s two sons together contributed over one hundred
years of mature working time to the family business, of which
ninety-six years were while Antonio was alive, some such division
of labour may well have been put into practice."

Edited: October 22, 2017, 7:55 AM · "...the violin was born as a clean looking instrument, and in that time most things were highly ornamented..."

Might it be because of its humble origins as an instrument for professional, working musicians as opposed to the aristocracy?

Circles method, as cool as it is, reminds me of music theory of the Common Practice Period, which was developed by studying what composers did after the fact.

October 22, 2017, 10:55 AM · The oldest known violin is the "Carlo IV", now in Cremona's Museum, dated 1564, and it was made for the King of France. There are no violins of this time made for humble musicians, on the contrary, they were commissioned by nobles, Kings, and the Church.
The idea of the violin as a popular instrument during its initial time is not confirmed, we just don't see them.
October 23, 2017, 5:29 AM · I wonder where I heard or read that idea of humble origins--can't remember. Thanks for your historical perspective Luis.

October 23, 2017, 9:31 AM · Yes, I've heard that too, but what we see is that violins were very expensive, they were produced for rich patrons, and no "popular" violins survive from this time.
Edited: October 24, 2017, 4:39 AM · Stradivari's sons may not have been very active in the actual making process. And unlike the Amati shops, there is no record of non-family members having been employed there. The same goes for Guarneri Del Gesu, I believe.

“In 1824, the Cremonese biographer Vincenzo Lancetti, who had interviewed Count Cozio di Salabue in compiling an account of violin making in Cremona, described the work of Stradivari’s sons; according to his account, paraphrased by the Hills in their 1902 book on Stradivari, they “principally confined their efforts to repairing and adjusting instruments, aided in the varnishing and general management, so that the master might be free to devote himself unremittingly to the construction of his instruments."

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