Violin Making In Northern Europe in the time of the Amatis: Part 1.

VSA Attendees: These TWO blogs are very roughly presented, but outline the substance of the talk I could have given. I look forward to the Q&A on Sunday, where we shall have some fun. Do post me any questions on Whova in the meantime. There was going to be a video… but I hear that most talks had some kind of issue. … In the fullness of time, these should form into a more substantive article – please accept these as a draft-form. They will disappear off my blog in a few weeks. 🙂

Benjamin Hebbert’s contribution to the Virtual 2020 Annual Convention of the Violin Society of America. Building on the BVMA conference of 2019: Early Violin Makers of Northern Europe, 1560-1725 that Ben chaired and organised, the following two papers are his synopsis of his own research coupled with the emerging threads of that conference.

Thank you for tuning in. For the Violin Society of America conference 2020 my talk comes in two parts, a look at how the violin emerged simultaneously across Northern Europe in the early sixteenth century, and in part two an introduction to surviving instruments from the seventeenth century.

I’d like to thank my colleagues Jan Strick, Urs Langenbacher, Marc Rosenteil, Hubert de Launay, Jan Bartos & Honorate Stalmierska who worked with me in 2019 on the BVMA conference about Early Northern European Violin Makers. This VSA paper is my opportunity to make a personal response to our collected learnings from that conference. I’d also like to pretend to apologise for a bias towards England. As I have found, the evidence emerges from most countries to suggest a similar narrative, so it’s nice to be able to concentrate on one country specifically where I have good detail from my more focussed research.

The emergence of the violin as a pan-European phenomenon:
c.1490 – 1570

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about the origin of the violin. The English enthusiast W.H. Quarrel wrote in the 1890s that the one certain fact in the great quagmire of history was that the violin was not invented in England. Whilst I quite like that statement, it is not altogether black and white, and I think that a clarity of information comes from understanding the interconnections that existed between European states through the early Renaissance, and even from the late-middle-ages. There are strong claims that have emerged from France, and from Poland that have staked the authorship of the violin as their own, and in recent years these have been discredited and debunked. I am slightly slower to be completely dismissive of them, because in many instances they provide evidence of the early emergence of the violin simultaneously across Europe as the idea caught on and spread rapidly, even in the final decade of the fifteenth century. 

Gaspar Duiffprougcar engraved by Pierre Woeiriot, 1562. Although he is a historical figure, he was born in 1514 and was too young for the mythology of his life to apply.

Nevertheless, these histories are riddled with problems. Gaspard Duiffprougcar was a historical figure who travelled from Füssen (not Italy) to Lyons to make instruments and, whose portrait survives by Pierre Woeiriot from 1562, but the extant figure is too young to fit the mythology ascribed to him. Hence we not only have a fabricated history, but in its place it has become harder to understand the truth of his career in the mid-to-late sixteenth century. The supposed history of Gaspard Duiffprougcar emerged by the time of Fayolle & Choron’s Historical Dictionary of Music in 1810 (long before Vuillaume) as a way to substantiate French propaganda: Duiffprougcar lived a parallel life to Leonardo da Vinci in this version of events, plucked from Italy by Francis I in 1516, and able to achieve ultimate greatness under the egalitarianism of a historical French state, upon which Napoleon’s own vision of France was modelled. These fantasies should have run their course before the end of the nineteenth century, but the rise of German unification in the Bismarck era brought about the identification of TIeffenbrucker as ethnically German, suiting an entirely new political agenda put forward in musical history by such writers as Niederheitmann. In turn, a parallel claim arose in Poland suggesting that the marriage of the Milanese princess, Bona Sforza to King Sigismund the Old in 1517 provided the environment for the invention of the violin, a claim that is still strong in the Polish educational curriculum, and taken to be fact. In post-war Germany, studies of the primitive Alemannische School, particularly by Olga Adelmann have tended towards the claim that these are hangers on from a much more ancient tradition that goes back to a time before the Amatis. 

In recent years, our recognition of Andrea Amati as the ‘father’ or ‘inventor’ of the violin has led to challenges. The work of the Belgian harpsichord expert, Karel Moens, has been recycled in various musicological sources, amplifying doubt about Amati’s purported status and the authenticity of the instruments. Not only do Andrea’s instruments fit comfortably as the first Amati violins, but I feel that Moens and his followers missed the point: Andrea Amati’s position at the beginning of the Cremonese school does not mean that he invented the violin, even if he developed a distinctive way of making them that we follow to this day, and there is plentiful evidence of violin making before him. I think Moens was challenging the same kind of lazy assertions that we also do, and that no serious student of the violin had ever made. Crucially, we seem to be able to trace the concept of the violin backwards for more-or-less half a century before Andrea was making them. I do however think that his thesis had an important point, to assert important questions about our ready-assumption that the violin was a product of the Northern Italian Renaissance. I think it was, but the early emergence across the Continent of Europe is an important narrative that we seem to have missed. 

Isabella d’Este by Titian, 1534-36 Kunsthistoriches Museum

The musicologist Peter Holman has made the best suggestion yet that the viol and violin came into fashion in the Ferrarese court of Isabella d’Este. She was the first female head of a Renaissance dynasty in Northern Italy, and as part of her overturning of male tropes in favour of a more feminine choreography, she emerged as the most significant patron of the arts of the early Renaissance. 

Allegory of the court of Isabella d’Este by Lorenzo Costa, c.1505-1506 (Louvre)
Maiolica plate, Urbino c.1524 with the arms of Isabella and her late husband, repeating the allegory of Lorenzo Costa. (V&A Museum)

One painting, an allegory of her court by Lorenzo Costa is important in demonstrating the sending away of the traditionally male and militaristic tropes in favour of the arts, and hence helps to explain how the violin, viol and lira da braccio  – at least in their intellectual forms – came to overshadow and even replace the militaristic connotations of the Cornets and Sackbuts used for dance and ceremonial music. Viols emerged to replace the consorts of recorders for performing polyphonic motets. 

In Titian’s Bachanal of the Andrians (1523-24) the maidens being dragged away pose with recorders pointing suggestively… if there is any doubt, the little boy raising his shirt gives the game away, and thus the connotations of the recorder. The music Chi boyt et ne reboyt il ne seet que boyre soit by Adrian Willaert a Flemish composer in the Ferrarese court. Ercole I d’Este for whom it was commissioned was cut from a different cloth to Isabella.
A more sedentary pastoral scene by Titian and his master Giorgione. The implication is no less explicit, c.1509 is thought to have belonged to Isabella d’Este before passing to the Gonzaga family. (Louvre)

One needs only to look to the Dionysiac -erotic – qualities of recorders depicted by such painters as Titian and Giorgione to see how they came to be portrayed. The discouragement of them amongst courtiers by Baldassare Castiglione or Isabella’ d’Este’s own reaction to the invitation to have a bone recorder fashioned for her own use in 1497 give an altogether explicit narrative of the kind of metaphor that they had come to represent. 

I’d like to quote the letter of the instrument maker Lorenzo da Pavia to Isabella d’Este on 3 August 1497:

All my ingenuity consists of working wood into musical instrument. Now, there has happened into my hands a bone as beautiful as one would ever hope to see, although from what animal it comes cannot be determined. It is as white as ivory and one could made a lovely recorder from it. It has a beautiful shape and is two and a half quarte long and almost  two fingers wide, and I am holding it for Your Ladyship’s command. 

And her reply on August 11.

“Concerning that bone, don’t drive us mad with talk about recorders; we don’t want it.”  

[Good try Lorenzo!]

Hence, the idea of the violin and its cousins are precisely as old as America, since Isabella d’Este came to the head of the Este dynasty in 1492. It seems that this idea spread from city to city, gaining special approval because of the renewed interest in classical mythology in which wind instruments are normally associated with tragic figures – Marsyas who was flayed alive for challenging the gods, or Pan, a mischievous and devilish figure, whereas the lyre-playing Apollo and Orpheus were champions of heroic virtue. The lost cousin of the violin, the lira da braccio directly used to invoke the traditions of Ancient Greek lyric tradition and earnestly associated with these mythical gods through the Renaissance. 

Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas from about 1570 (when he was in his eighties). The perils of playing wind instruments.

What we see in Italy is the sudden spread of a good set of ideas, the violin, viol and lira da braccio disseminating around Italy with speed at the dawn of the sixteenth century. Moreover it can be shown from Isabella’s own letters to Lorenzo da Pavia that “viole” made for her court in 1495 were made by instrument makers in Brescia. As soon as these ideas were in the hands of specialist makers producing for a broad audience, the pattern of dissemination would have changed to further enhance the speed and network spreading the concept further in Italy and beyond. 

Pirro Gonzaga to Isabella, 1507.

In order not to consume in vain my youth, especially in these difficult times, I have decided to learn instrumental music, and first violini, of which I am fondest. And because, at the beginning of my study, I do not have the said instruments, and since I am trying to obtain them, I beg Your Excellency to please me with those that Giovanni Angelo had made in Brescia, because he tells me that they are very good.” 


From Brescia it is a short step to England, and I want to really push the idea of England because in most people’s minds – not least the English – England is literally the last place we would expect to find flourishing Italian culture at this time. 

Here since the reign of Richard III a succession of Brescian literati, both accomplished lutenists – Pietro Carmelliano followed by Zuan Piero de Bustis were employed through the reigns of King Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII to correspond and travel between London and Italy as diplomats for the King and as cultural emissaries. 

It is easy to dismiss the England of the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation against the Church of Rome as a cultural backwater – the English themselves make a habit of it – but under the reign of Henry VII England had consolidated its finances with a period where it looked it its internal affairs to bring stability and order. When Henry VIII succeeded to the throne, it was one of the richest states in Europe. For the Italians, an alliance with England brought the the promise of finance and mercenaries in any of the endless wars of the early Renaissance. Hence, England was feted as a virtual Italian state, with strong relations with the Venetians, Florentines, Ferrarese and Mantuans in particular. Hence England had the ability to be highly responsive to happenings in Italy: There are fascinating reports of instruments arriving from Italy at this time: The illegitimate son of the Venetian governor of Cyprus, Zuan de Leze, is one. After carting a harpsichord across land to receive audience with the King of England, his performance failed to meet the King’s favour so he committed suicide before the end of the night. The king kept the harpsichord. Even Dionysius Memo, no less than the organist of St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice came to England bringing with him an organ for the King though he had to flee in fear of his life, having been exposed as a spy. 

Wall paintings from Bramhall Hall executed in 1538 reflect the political iconography of Henry VIII as a musician. The Plantagenet blond hair and ostrich feathers tend towards an identification as the king.

Henry VIII was himself a musician, composer, and the inventory of musical instruments belonging to him upon his death is the largest most extensive to come from anywhere in the sixteenth century. Wall paintings from Bramall Hall depicting a nobleman with Plantagenet blond hair and ostrich feathers in his hat playing a gittern and painted in around 1538 reflect the political iconography that the King applied to himself, performing in public within his court and its entourage as part of his identity as a Renaissance prince.

One particularly personable letter between the Duke of Ferrara to Henry VIII describes the gift of a lute presented via Zuan Piero de Bustis in 1517:

However, when amongst other things I pointed out to the aforesaid Zuan Piero [de Bustis] a lyre of that type which in Italy we call a lute, he immediately said that he thought this would please your Majesty. I replied that I would believe it had come from heaven if it would please your Majesty and handed it over to the same Zuan Piero to be taken to your Majesty. This [lute] although it is made very elegantly does not, however, seem to me worthy of a great prince and therefore I ask your Majesty that you may deign to accept not the worth of the gift, which is small, but the sincere faith and boundless good will of the sender.

This is a huge digression from the violin, but to get back on track, the first hints of the instrument come less than a decade after Isabella d’Este took power in Ferrara, with the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur in 1501. [Arthur died, Catherine married Henry in his place]. 

Amongst Catherine of Aragon’s entourage we see “Mynsrelles for disportes and dauncing” who remained with her and are later listed in more coherent records as players of stringed instruments. This fits precisely into the narrative emerging from Renaissance Italy, and has other importance because it shows that these ideas had already spread to the Aragonese Court in Spain prior to their arrival in England. 

I keep banging on about the “intellectual idea of the violin” because I think that throughout Europe there was no particular design outcome for the instrument in terms of its physical shape. I think we should suppose that the idea of what a violin could perform musically and how merged with pre-existing regional ideas. Things may have been as simple as putting a curved bridge on an instrument that already existed, or rethinking the nature of court music to the point of allowing instruments that already existed to be elevated to use within high status dance and ceremonial music. I am not particularly interested in iconography of things that may or may not be a direct precursor of the way that Amati made his violins. Far more interested in string players playing dance tunes in a high status context. 

Holbein’s design for a triumphal arch depicting Mount Parnassus for the German merchants of the Steelyard in London to celebrate the marriage of Anne Boleyn in 1533.

Hence in knowing that violin performance was a part of English court music in the early sixteenth century, we get a hint of the kind of bowed-stringy-thing that may have been a violin from Hans Holbein’s designs of the Processional Arch of the German Steelyard Merchants to celebrate the 1533 marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. 

There is just one more marriage of Henry VIII that I would like to pass over, in 1538 as part of preparations for his marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry sent forth ambassadors to recruit his  “ministers of passtime” sourced from all over Europe. Rather than the haphazard comings and goings of Continental artists and musicians, Henry was determined to assign permanent patronage to musicians in order to transform the English court into one that reflected a cross-roads of European culture: In the words of Charles de Marillac, the French Amabassador: 

“The King […] now gives himself up to amusement, going to play every night upon the Thames, with harps, chanters and all kind of music and pastime. He evidently delights now in painting and embroidery, having sent men to France, Flanders, Italy and elsewhere for masters of this art, and also for musicians and other ministers of pastime.”

Amongst these musicians, the Galliardellos, Lupos, Comeys, came from Italy. I can report with a certain smugness that Giovanni Maria da Cremona – from Cremona – along with his sons, George and Innocent had travelled to England on several occasions in the 1530s and made England their permanent home after 1538. As the Comey or Comer family, they were still making violins up through the 1660s and records paying them to look after and transport stringed instruments suggest that they had a specific role looking after these instruments. Other Italian players might also have made instruments, or at least might have had the contacts in Italy to procure them. Mark Anthony Galliardello, from Brescia supplied a chest of viols to the English court for the sum of 100 Crowns. “Francesco de Venetia one of our vyolons” appears in the 1563 accounts paid for “a set of vyalls by him sold to us for the sum of fifteen pounds.” Unfortunately there is no comma so we don’t know if they were “by him, sold to us” or “by him sold to us”. I will come onto the Venetian Bassano family presently… but now is a good time to digress to other countries.  

The Kingdom of Poland & Lithuania

Cameo bust of Bona Sforza, circa 1540

My unapologetic focus on England has been because it presents a narrative that is echoed in other Northern European States. In the Kingdom of Poland & Lithuania the marriage of Bona Sforza to King Sigismund the Old in 1519 sets the narrative for the Polish history of the violin. Whilst this has been controversial, and attempts to build a mythology of specifically functional violins around this idea hold their inherent problems, the idea that violin playing emerged in the Polish court at this point in time is wholly coherent with the evidence that emerges out of England. In essence, the country with the strongest claim outside of Italy for the “invention of the violin” and that with the weakest claim offer surprisingly parallel narratives in the first half of the sixteenth century. 


Munich in 1572, the strategic crossing of the Isar River, and the gateway to to the transalpine trade routes.

At this point, we should consider the Archducal Court of the Bavarian Capital of Munich, the fortress that defends the river crossing of the Isar that lies between the Alps and the German lowlands: The gateway through which overland trade was funnelled. The Flemish composer, Orlando di Lassus had travelled to the Gonzaga court in Mantua at the age of twelve, around 1492 then to Sicily and Milan, before returning to the Low countries, perhaps via England, and then finding employment as Kapellmeister with the Archduke of Bavaria at Munich in 1556. Under his influence from 1561 we see the appointment of Italian stringed-instrument musicians of the Morari, Terzio, Besution, Romano and Pocis families within the archducal court. Hence when we see some of the earliest images in existence of the modern violin family, they are from Munich in 1568, a mere four years after the labelled Charles IX Amati violin of 1564. 

Hans Meilich, 1568, depicting then Italian musicians under Orlando di Lassus in the Archducal Court of Munich.
Detail of Hans Meilich, 1568 (above)


And so finally out of my pick of European states we come to France: 

In France, rather than fixating on the 1564 date for the Charles IX Commission, we are better to consider that court records from the 1550s provide names of the violons Italien. Going further back, we should look to the marriage of the future Henry II of France in 1533 to Catherine de Medici. The reigning king, Francis I had already entertained Leonardo da Vinci under his patronage from 1516 to 1519, and although Catherine’s arrival in France was central to the patronage of the Arts, the direction had already been cast by her father in law. Having begun his monumental expansion of the palace of Fontainbleu in 1528. From 1533 to 1539 as a dramatic gesture to Catherine he employed the architect Sebastiano Serlio and the Florentine painted Giovanni Baptista di Jacopo to decorate the new gallery in the extravagant new style. In turn, Catherine brought her own musicians with her.  

The gallery of Francis I, Fontainbleu palace, introducing the Florentine Renaissance style to France.

Renaissance Humanism and the ideas of commodities – as they might apply to Andrea Amati

As we come perilously close to contextualising  the first of Andrea Amati’s work, and here I want to be firm about the level of conjecture I am applying. Although I see a transition in cultural behaviour in the second half of the sixteenth century, it remains somewhat speculative as to how it came about, and for this paper I can only skim the surface of a much deeper question about Renaissance consumption of prized cultural goods.

My starting point is Pico della Mirandello’s Oration on the Dignity of Man delivered in 1486, in someways the touch paper of the Renaissance Humanism. As he put it,  “….man’s place in the universe is somewhere between the beasts and the angels, but, because of the divine image planted in him, there are no limits to what man can accomplish….”. The literal follower of this dangerously heretical ideology of Renaissance Humanism understood that it was up to the responsibility of the individual to work towards angelic virtue, or to allow themselves to lower to the level of animals.

Holbein, Ambassadors, painted at Bridewell Palace, 1533.

Here I want to gratuitously use Hans Holbein’s Ambassadors to illustrate the point, for we see the two conditions of man – the metaphor of the lute bathed in celestial light pointing upwards to those things that are elevated towards the level of angels, and the same form depicted again below the cabinet as a black almost imperceptible lute case of identical form, outside of God’s light and close to death. This is a late and brilliant illustration of the scales of the human soul that forms a constant trope in early Renaissance imagery.

The idea formented into a celebration of artistically virtuosic individuals whose presence within court society stood to enrich it: The Leonardo da Vinci archetype of which we are all familiar was repeated in countless others throughout the Renaissance period, though none quite so celebrated – we have in England Holbein himself, Niklaus Kratzner the deviser of the King’s Horologies (the objects that appear in the Ambassadors) and John Dee who translated Euclid’s elements from the earliest sources into English, or from slightly earlier Filipo Brunelleschi in Florence or the Burgundian Henricus Arnault de Zwolle who created the drawings of lutes and other instruments of which we are all familiar – part of an enormous codex as broad in subject matter as Leonardo’s own.

Henricus Arnault de Zwolle’s drawing for a lute. Mid-fifteenth century.

However, with developments of the printing press towards the middle of the sixteenth century came an economic reinforcement of the idea that centres of excellence existed in all forms of manufacturing. This was largely founded upon the supply of raw materials, for example one cannot make the best swords without a supply of the finest steel, which may be why I am increasingly pointing to Georg Agricola’s De re Metallica, a treatise on the nature of mining and metals, that was widely disseminated but that banked on the unique experiences and geographical advantages of particular miners and metalworkers. This was published in 1556 as – if not the origin of these ideas, though it certainly has the potential – then the confirmation that they had been emerging throughout the states of Europe. With this doctrine came the idea of protecting industries that gave a particular state its prestige. 

Georg Agricola, De re Metallica, 1556.

There is some immediate evidence from musical instrument making of the movement of assets that this protectionism sought to curtail. The Bassano family had been visiting London from the 1520s, but amongst the “ministers of passtime” that had moved permanently to England after 1538 the entire Bassano family arrived from Venice, They were more-or-less been the most important makers of wind instruments anywhere in Europe. The majority of Renaissance wind instruments that survive, more than a hundred of them, are made by the Bassanos and most of them in England. We further know from petitions to the English Court that the Bassanos considered themselves out of favour with the Venetian Republic, and were concerned that they would be seen as traitors if they returned there. A petition of 1552 to Mary I reads:

… at the contemplation of His Highness’ letters’ that he and his three brothers did leave their own country, the Seignory of Venice, to serve as well His Highness [and] His Grace’s heirs and successors. Kings of this realm [England] in the science of music, and thereby … lost their entertainment and [were] in jeopardy of utter banishment from thence.

Earlier than this, the lute making communities of Bologna, Padua and Venice had become established, exclusively as colonies of German families coming from Füssen. There were obvious political consequences to the giving away of cultural capital, just as there were to gaining it and by the middle of the sixteenth century “Venice Lutes” (which may have referred to all lutes that were exported through Venice, i.e. Paduan and Bolognese ones too) gained a reputation as the most prestigious of all lute making.

Hence, through the 1550s and 1560s we see traces of a systematic policy amongst European states to protect their own prestige manufacturing. Instrument making – as it happens – proves to be a very important micro-indicator of wider ideas because there were so few makers, and they didn’t fit into the traditional medieval guild system as a result. The artist’s Guild of St Luke in Antwerp admitted its first harpsichord makers in 1557 taking in the eleven who worked in the city, and subsequently became famed throughout Europe for the Ruckers dynasty of makers. In Füssen an instrument makers guild was established in 1562. In England Royal patronage rather than guild membership seems to have protected both the Bassanos who had been leased the palatial apartments of the Charterhouse upon their arrival (the former monastery on the northern edge of the City of London) and in 1561 John Rose received a similar grace-and-favour lease for the main apartments of Bridewell Palace on the western boundary of the city, his lease stating that his instruments were famed as much in Italy as in his native country.

Brescia seems to have strengthened its position in instrument making, though it is unclear what formal means were applied, and then of course there is the circumstance of Andrea Amati in 1564. Put simply, if he was such a hotshot, what kept him in Cremona and out of France? Put differently, why did the French attribute a specific value on violins made in Cremona over and above the prestige of bringing this valued craftsman to work in their own country? Here’s another idea. Did the French patronage of Gaspard Duiffprougcar in the second half of the sixteenth century emerge as out of tension with Catherine de Medici’s patronage of Italian musicians and instrument makers?

I think that this theory is also important because it develops the idea of conformity. If Cremonese violins were to be valued they had to be distinctively recognisable one to another. We can go further and suppose the application of geometrical conceits in order to make more philosophically ordered instruments, something that Francois Denis has demonstrated for Brescians as well as the Cremonese of this period and something I have found in English instruments too, since music itself was mathematical, and makers needed to find narratives to assert superiority over other schools.

In Antwerp harpsichord making we see the development of one of the most significant branding exercises of the early-modern period with the familiar printed “Sea Horse” decoration that provides a common theme to keyboard instruments made there, and appears in turn in the many paintings of the Dutch Golden Age that ostentatiously incorporate high-status Flemish keyboard instruments conscious that the viewer would recognise exactly what they were looking at: The earliest surviving Antwerp virginal, made by Has Bos in 1578 was itself a Royal Gift bequeathed to the Monastery at Tordesillas in Spain at a time when Antwerp was under Spanish rule. Others made it to other parts of the Spanish empire, such as the Hans Ruckers double virginal of 1581 that has the royal medallions of Anne of Austria and Philip of Spain emblazoned on it. It was sent to Cuzco in Peru as a gift to the Inca Marquis of Oropeza. From our understanding of Antwerp keyboard making in particular, the logic follows that there was little taste for marvellously inventive quirks of design. Eccentric designs continued to have their place within Renaissance society if they reflected new innovation, but largely speaking there seems to have been a high premium applied to consistency and quality: The key to successful design was in enabling consumers to show off the breadth of their cosmopolitan consumption, and relying on the ability of visiting nobles to understand what they were looking at.

Back to France…

This brings us full circle to the influence of Andrea Amati because of the circumstances of the French Court of Charles IX. Here, there is a very literal connection between Catherine de Medici and the instruments that emerged in the 1560s. The Fontainbleu school of painting had emerged out of the Italian artists and sculptors who had come with her to France in 1533 and had developed into their own style. There may be discussions over where the paintings on the Andrea Amati instruments were executed, and by whom, but the designs can be ascribed firmly to Antoine Caron and his immediate circle in the French court.

Antoine Caron’s design for the stage set of Augustus and Sybil of the Tyber, c.1580
The “King” Andrea Amati with the date 1566 in one of the columns.
Antoine Caron’s Triumph of Winter, c.1568. The positioning of the heralds on either side of the temple gates recalls Peace and Justice on the Andrea Amati instruments. The wheel in the bottom right is remarkably similar to the designs on the Ex-Kurtz Andrea Amati.
Andrea Amati Ex-Kurtz, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In addition to being a painter, Caron was the great choreographer who worked with Catherine de Medici on the creation of her great festivities to demonstrate the triumphs of France (and particularly of her own influence in France) all at a time that the country was on the brink of Civil War. The court progressed from the festival at Fountainbleau in 1564 to Bayonne near the Spanish border in 1565 for Catherine to meet her daughter Elizabeth, Queen of Spain, and to affirm the peace between the two countries, and thence from place to place through 1566. More pageants took place in the remaining years, and in 1573 a ball was held for the Polish Ambassadors at the Tullieres to celebrate the governing council’s election of her son Henry as King of Poland. 

In 1575 Sir Robert Dudley whose relationship with Queen Elizabeth was as tempestuous as that between France and Spain repeated the choreography of the festivities of Bayonne in remarkable detail in his three days of festivities at Kenilworth Castle for Queen Elizabeth I, including a fish full of musicians. It may be just as significant that we see shapes of violins that would have been familiar to Andrea Amati in the 1568 depictions of Orlando di Lassus’ Italian musicians in the Munich court.

My argument where the Charles IX set is concerned is that these played a role in a new choreography of the epic tales of classical mythology, but this time on a massive scale, and for the first time with the instruments so-associated with Apollo used within massed ensembles. These were the backbone of pageants and festivities that had international importance, attracting not only embassies from other countries, but visiting noblemen. Hence the display of these ideas had enormous cultural influence. Before this moment it seems that ensembles of violin players were very seldom more than three-strong performing dance music, but the French band would ultimately number up to thirty-six musicians. It would directly pave the way to Balthasar de Beaujoyleux’s Ballet Comique de la Reine of 1581, and thence to the Operas of Monteverdi, the Masques of the English court and to the baroque orchestra as we know it. In establishing a new kind of genre of musical performance that Catherine de Medici was able to expose to the world, the Cremonese violin somehow became part and parcel of the whole thing. 

I want to summarise by emphasising how the concept of the violin came into being at the end of the fifteenth century, and how quickly the concept travelled and gained acceptance throughout all of Europe. How ultimately we can see the transfer of ideas passing through Spain into England within a decade of becoming established in the Ferrarese court. But how this evolved as ideas unbound by any specific design. The violin for much of the sixteenth century should be imagined as a musical concept rather than a piece of engineered design. In my mind the ideas of a ompetition between nations to “invent” the violin is a hollow narrative. I think we see regional reactions to a particular intellectual idea spreading very rapidly in the Renaissance, I see the invention of the violin and the development of the Cremonese-style violin as events that existed more than half a century apart.

In the second part of my talk, I will look more at the surviving consequences of this state of affairs. The instruments of Bassano and Rose in England and the flourishing of a Northern European challenge to the success of the Amatis.

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