baroque violin in painting??

November 5, 2010 at 02:29 PM ·

The following link is to a beautiful mozart trio on you tube.  However, its the picture selected by tue uploader to accompany the music intrigued me - it shows mary and child being entertained by angels.  One is playing what is surely a baroque violin with bow.

Anyone know the painter?  I'm guessing late 17, early 18C. 

Also, interestingly the violin which is accurately painted is being held on the left side of the player, as normal, but with the chin over the 'E string' side of the instrument!  Was this ever the case?


Replies (38)

November 5, 2010 at 03:42 PM ·

It's a beautiful painting, although I'm not sure whose it is.  Most likely Italian renaissance.  The artist would have hired models to work from.  Whether or not the woman who posed with the violin knew anything about how to play (or correctly hold) one is open to debate.

A few years ago I was looking at a contemporary print titled "Angel Playing a Mandolin".  While many aspects of it were lovely, the mandolin was actually a lute, held under the angel's chin, played with a bow held in the left hand.  Oops!! 

Even in a painting as beautifully executed as the one here, you can't take it for granted that all aspects are as accurate as the draftsmanship.


November 5, 2010 at 05:07 PM ·

Many (most?) baroque violinists put their chin over the e-string side of the violin and use no chin or shoudler rest.  : )

November 5, 2010 at 05:17 PM ·

I had never noticed that - so the picture is accurate!

Would love to know its date.  It looks a bit like a Raphael - definitely later than Titian...

November 5, 2010 at 05:21 PM ·

On occasions when I play without a chin rest I have my chin on the e-string side, for two reasons: it's more comfortable and stable (the instrument won't be able to slide down); and there is significantly less dampening of the table by chin contact on the e-string side than there would be on the g-string side (try it!).  I try to restrict chin contact only for when I'm shifting from a higher position to a lower.  

November 5, 2010 at 06:59 PM ·

Although there isn't just one way to hold the violin correctly the baroque violin is most often as you describe, with the chin on the right side of the tailpiece.  It's easier to hold that way and I find it resonates better as well.

November 5, 2010 at 07:41 PM ·

The beautiful painting is "Song of the Angels" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, one of my favorite painters.

November 5, 2010 at 11:07 PM ·

So painted in 1881, about 80 years after the modern style of bow and setup were settling into place.  The bow is early in style but seems to be under a lot of tension, the violin has a modern bridge and a non-baroque fingerboard, and f-holes unlike anything I’ve seen.  In effect a fantasy “early” violin.  I suspect that it’s all inspired by paintings of earlier times which the painter would have been familiar with.

November 5, 2010 at 11:10 PM ·

 Both the Realists in France and the Pre Rafaelites in England and elsewhere where inspired by the Italian Renaissance painters , particularly Rafael. 

November 6, 2010 at 01:36 AM ·

Thanks guys - I knew someone would nail it.  So the painting is relatively modern - perhaps the painter was trying to make it look 'authentic' and that was his vision of an old violin!  Needless to say, rather unlikely at the time of Jesus...

November 6, 2010 at 04:18 PM ·

Elise...I have read all the posts...this is such a wonderful subject... as always with you...

I have seen many valuable old instruments in my life, and it is obvious that the chin of the baroque players was over the tail-piece and touching the right side of the violin... and still,violinist who really know about how to hold their instruments without a shoulder pad do hold their violin that way. So, that is the reason why many of these ancient instruments do not have anymore varnish, also on the right side at the bottom. The varnish has all chipped off, and underneath ,on the back side ,also...

November 7, 2010 at 10:54 PM ·

Were are you Elise??? Miss you...

November 7, 2010 at 11:30 PM ·

 Guys the woman is looking at the baby at her right side while playing the violin. Where is the best place to put her face? On the right side of the violin off course. Any modern painter would have done the same. She is leaning towards the baby and I think it has nothing to do with the way a baroque violin is played.

November 8, 2010 at 12:13 AM ·

@Marc: I'm here every day, usually several times.  But if anyone is going to 'miss' I think you are the more AWOL :)


November 8, 2010 at 12:18 AM ·

Dion:  Perhaps, and perhaps not.

Since the violin is depicted so accurately I would be more inclined to think the way of playing was too.  However, the only real way of knowing is to ask the painter :)

November 8, 2010 at 01:49 AM ·

...Sorry, I am so busy these days...I come less often and soon I will be traveling again...

November 8, 2010 at 01:54 AM ·

And on the painting, we notice that the angel plays in the third position...Vengerov said that they only played in the first most of the time...I do not believe this to be true, when taking a look at Locatelli,s 24 Capriccio written during J.S.Bach life time...

November 8, 2010 at 11:57 AM ·

 Locatelli did indeed go stratospheric, well beyond the end of the normal Baroque fingerboard in his Caprices (Cadenzas from the concertos), unless he had a longer fingerboard fitted.  Bach's violin music goes into the 7th position on occasion.

I'd also guess that the hand positions of the musicians in the painting were drawn from life – they look too good to be otherwise.

November 8, 2010 at 03:15 PM ·

"Playing only in 1st position" is one of those silly misconceptions that modern players make up in order to criticize historical performance practice.  There is very very good reason why baroque violinists play a lot of music in first position and with open strings and the gist of it is that it's because of the strings and the tension.  Gut strings are a lot more mellow and a little slower to respond than synthetic strings.  There is also no nasal brash sounds when you play the open strings, only a beautiful clear ringing which we try to use as much as possible within reason.

But as was mentioned abovve you don't have to search very hard within baroque music to find pieces that are in high positions like Locatelli, Vivaldi, and Bach.

November 8, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

Marina - thanks, that is so enlightening since I keep reading this 1st position stuff over and over.  Perhaps its because many players learned on a minimal violin as I did - where the sound of an open (E) string could pierce and destroy a 100 piece orchestra.  :)  With the Fear Of God (read the conductor) open strings became anathama - I'm only now learning to embrace them - with a violin that sounds sweet even with wire-wound synthetics...

November 8, 2010 at 05:31 PM ·

Don't forget that the baroque violin is tuned to A=415.  That and the fact that there is less tension and a much rounder sound on open strings makes a huge difference.  I don't use my open strings on my modern violin because they are harsh.  I spend all summer playing the baroque violin and in september when I had to pic, up the modern violin my ears literally buzzed and hurt from the brightness.

November 8, 2010 at 06:46 PM ·

Thats quite a shift - does it take you any time to readjust your intonation?  Or is it really all relative?

My open A is a bit bright but the other three are rather nice open.  Lets hear it for John :)


November 8, 2010 at 10:02 PM ·

If anyone is interested . . .

This is a 16th century painting that may have been the inspiration for the 19th c. Bouguereau painting.  It's the Madonna degli Aranci (Madonna of the Orange Trees) of Gaudenzio Ferrari (ca.1475 1546), in the church of San Cristoforo in Vercelli, a town in Northern Italy.  A putto at the bottom of the painting is playing a 3-stringed violin.  The painting is one of the earliest pictorial representations (maybe THE earliest representation) of the violin.

Ferrari seems to have included instruments of the violin family in other paintings.  This is a fresco he painted around the same time in the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (Saint Mary of the Miracles) in Saronno, another town in Northern Italy.

These early representations of the violin are discussed in David Boyden's History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761.

November 9, 2010 at 09:29 AM ·

I'm also intrigued by the statement that violinists only played in first position in those times! Vivaldi wrote an A minor (or was it E minor) concerto that goes up into third position and beyond.

Mozart's concertos and also the violin/viola duos (which are much more demanding tecnically) go all over the place, as do his first violin parts in the string quartets. Same with the Handel Sonatas, if I remember correctly.

Also, this idea that an open string sounds harsh! It can do, but surely that is down to bowing technique??!!!!!

November 9, 2010 at 11:39 AM ·

Peter:  Also, this idea that an open string sounds harsh! It can do, but surely that is down to bowing technique??!!!!!

Spoken like an (authentic) Stradivarius owner... :p :)

Interesting though - can an outstanding player extract a beautiful sound from the open strings of a dreadful violin?

November 9, 2010 at 11:40 AM ·

YES!! (I only have a Guanarius del Jesu  though, I'm afraid ...) (wink)

November 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM ·

Elise I have extracted the beautiful sound from my VSO, I am going to bottle it, patent it and put it in the open market. It should be a knockout success.   

November 9, 2010 at 12:33 PM ·

 So presumably now that the beautiful sound has been extracted from the VSO and bottled the VSO may safely be used for firewood?

November 9, 2010 at 12:36 PM ·

What the hell is a VSO? (Sounds like a disease ... VDSO?)

November 9, 2010 at 12:40 PM ·

It will be used as firewood but I must still extract the beautiful smell. 

VSO will then be Very Strong Oder.

November 9, 2010 at 01:08 PM ·

Peter you get no sympathy from me if you own a fiddle like that.  But when it comes to open strings sounding harsh there is a big difference between the sound of an open string on a modern fiddle and the sound of an open string on a baroque fiddle.  So if you have a synthetic e-string on your del Gesu (eye roll haha) tuned to a=415 it will sound remarkably bright compared to a gut e on a baroque violin tuned to a=415.

November 9, 2010 at 01:27 PM ·


I've just sold my Del Jesu for £50 (wink).

But I have to say I don't have any problems * with open strings. (Maybe it's my ears?)

* I tell a big lie!! I get those damned wolf notes sometimes on an open E ... GRRRRRRRR


November 9, 2010 at 01:34 PM ·

"I'm also intrigued by the statement that violinists only played in first position in those times!"

That may have been true of the earliest period of violin playing--the 16th century, when the violin was largely limited to dance music (although viols were played in the upper positions even then).  But by the time of Marin Mersenne (Harmonie Universelle, 1636), nearly a century before  Vivaldi, the best players reportedly were able to play up to the 4th position on all strings, and a composition by Marco Uccellini (op. 5) dated 1649 reaches the 6th position on the e string.  This is covered in David Boyden, The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 (London 1965) (pp. 154-155).

November 9, 2010 at 01:46 PM ·

Yes, I'm sure you are right, Bill. I was thinking more of the Vivaldi, to Haydn, Mozart period, just before they started changing the kneck and fingerboards in the early 1800's.

In fact Haydn must have been a very competent fiddler, playing first violin in the quartet with Mozart, as some of his stuff hits the frostbite zone. (Last few bars in last movement of quartet Op 64 No 4 where it hits a top D 3 octaves above open D string). (OR is that an editors addition 8ve up?)

December 29, 2013 at 06:38 PM · I was revisiting this thread and it made me think that perhaps modern players have a disdain for baroque music simply because mr. Suzuki had to go and put loads of it in the beginner books. I'm sure he has the best intentions and love for this music and yet now it's thought of as kids play. Maybe that's why early music haters like Zukerman think early music is for amateurs and people who can't play well.

December 29, 2013 at 06:38 PM · double post

December 29, 2013 at 06:38 PM · triple post

December 29, 2013 at 07:34 PM · the video link doesn't connect anymore but yes, baroque players are usually represented with their chins on the lower bout. i love the music but playing in that position shifts the "f" holes closer to my left ear, making it way too loud for comfort.

i wasn't aware there was disdain for the music itself - just for those who prefer to play it using replica instruments.

January 10, 2014 at 01:26 PM · I think there is a type of disdain for the music as well, often thought of as "beginner pieces." I also find it strange that there is discrimination based on what instrument one plays. So what if someone wants to play without a shoulder rest or even a chin rest or on gut strings? I'm just trying to understand why there is any controversy at all.

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