Violin making in Northern Europe in the time of the Amatis: Part 2

Some years ago I was involved in a project with the British Museum to contextualise their most significant work of medieval wood carving, a citole made in England sometime around 1300, which had been turned into a violin as a gift soaked in metaphor from Queen Elizabeth I to her spurned lover Sir Robert Dudley in 1578. In turn this allowed me to publish findings on two, and ultimately three instruments found in the Edinburgh University collection, at Dean Castle and a third that I had found at auction and helped the university to acquire.

In turn this allowed me to publish findings on two, and ultimately three instruments found in the Edinburgh University collection, at Dean Castle and a third that I had found at auction and helped the university to acquire.

In short, it had long been established that the Bassanos had used a symbol of a silk moth as their makers mark for wind instruments, and that the moth appeared again on their coat of arms. The Edinburgh instrument which had been catalogued as 18th century, and presented to me as potentially earlier had four ink insects painted within the decoration that corresponded in all anatomical respects specifically to silk moths. At the time, it was merely speculative whether or not these related directly to the Bassanos, or whether they were possibly an inherited decoration on instruments made at a later time.

The Bassano coat of arms relating to their occupation in the silk trade. The mulberry tree and three silk moths.
One of the four silk moths on the Edinburgh University violin.
The silk moth stamp on a tenor recorder by the Bassanos in London c.1540-1610. Note the red varnish, also found on the Bassano violins.
(Library of Congress)

In a sheer stroke of luck, on a trip to another collection at Dean Castle in Kilmarnoch we encountered another example that seemed to seal the deal, as although it was clearly by the same maker and decorated by the same hand it had the roses of York and Lancaster on the front and back, forming a Tudor Rose. The composite Tudor Rose that we are familiar with today was much used as a British symbol long after the Tudor dynasty came to an end, but these allusions to the Tudor Rose in unconventional manners were more a Tudor thing. At length we were able to compare our findings with the violin belly of the citole, and that in turn has a goldsmith’s mark for 1578. Here we had evidence of Tudor violin making in Britain.

There are very few pictures of violins in sixteenth-century England, and out of these the overwhelming majority showed violins of this type – sometimes paired with violins of a normal design, and so it seems that this was a well-known design within cultured English circles. These in turn would relate to the various “festooned” viols, orpharions and other instruments that seem to be a characteristic of English craftsmanship in the decades surrounding the end of the century.

This may, at first glance suggest that I am claiming these as an English style of making, and thus that the violin of this significantly early sort emerges from Britain. After all, the neck joint of these ribless instruments is a direct English precedent to the manufacture of cricket bats. A perfectly logical and elegant conclusion, but that is not the direction I want to pursue.

To me, the jury is out on the subject of where they come from, but I will heavily wager it to be Venice. Here we do see the earliest verifiable example that I know of being played by the violinist in Veronese’s Marriage at Cana painted in 1563. The sophisticated outlines of other viols in the group of musicians gives some idea of taste, and the fact that Veronese depicted his painter colleagues as the musicians gives us some sense of reliability about the image. There are other viols in museums and in particular the painting by Dominichino in Bologna from about 1615 of St Cecilia that indicate the broader extent to which instruments of these ornate ‘festooned’ forms were made. If anyone has better evidence for an origin, I am keen to hear it. The counter argument may just as well be that as a crossroads in trade, it was inevitable that anything would appear in Venice sooner or later, including English – or Polish fiddles. I am less inclined to think that, but it is a possibility.

Paolo Veronese: Marriage at Cana, Venice 1563
Paolo Veronese: Marriage at Cana detail.
Zampieri, detto Dominichino, St Cecilia, Bologna, circa 1615.

I touch on Polish fiddles because of the myth making of the Polish origin of the violin, and how surprisingly this blends with what seems to emerge from other countries at the time – simply to say that our traditions all seem to be as ancient.. Much of the Polish claim comes down to a lost instrument whose only trace is an engraving in August Sokołowski’s 1901 Illustrated History of Poland, supposedly dating back to the reign of Bona Sforza. In fact since she died in 1557, there may be only marginal discrepancy in the dates for the instrument is certainly representative of the things found in other countries in the middle decades of the sixteenth century. Whether or not as a Polish instrument it was made by the first Marcin Groblicz, the so-called ‘father of Polish violin making’ is something that Polish historians have contested. Here we seem to have a mixture of plausible truth and wishful thinking, but I don’t think that it should undermine the our fundamental interest in the instrument of Sokołowski’s engraving.

August Sokołowski The Illustrated History of Poland, 1901.

By the early 1600s, a time when we think of the Cremonese violin form being well-established, these festooned instruments seem to have been endemic, throughout the Low Countries, Germany in addition to what we have already seen. Significant examples appear in Jan Brueghel the younger’s Allegory of the Sense of Sound, and Michael Praetorius’ Syntagma Musicum – as a klein diskant geige.

There is further evidence of the widespread nature of this ribless festooned model, which survives through the seventeenth century in pochette form. Examples exist by the Flemish maker, Gaspar Borbon and Mathias Wörle from Augsburg in 1691, and although you didn’t expect me to mention Antonio Stradivari in this talk, (no VSA conference bingo is complete without a mention of him) there is an enigmatic drawing of a pochette of this sort amongst his templates and patterns. Evidently although these had fallen from the mainstream in seventeenth century Europe, there was enough of a cultural memory of their presence to see them through to this point in time.

We also see these ideas in the viola da gamba produced in Nuremberg in the early 17th century by Ernst Busch, and in England by John Rose in the sixteenth century followed by Henry Jaye in the early years of the 17th century.

I am very interested, towards the end of the sixteenth century in the musical publication of William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, Cantiones Sacrae, published in London in 1575 because of how it relates to English attitudes towards foreign music.

Frontispiece of Cantiones Sacrae, 1575.

The introductory writing to the work is explicit about it’s politics:

In former days our England admired the splendid works of these men [from other nations] but always allowed her own to lie in obscurity; but now that she has happily found leaders in Tallis and Byrd, to whom she gave birth, she allows her children to enjoy the light, and, such is the favour they have won in battle, to be carried through foreign lands for appraisement by masters of the art.

British music, preparing for battle. 
Saw that she could pursue her course. 
In safety only if the Queen should declare herself her patron. 
And promised to equal the nine muses in artistry. 
If she could number as her authors those who. 
If they would but compose, would astound her people. 
Therefore strengthened by the support of so learned a ruler. 
She fears no nation’s boundaries or censure. 
Proclaiming Tallis and Byrd her parents. 
She advances boldly for every voice to sing.

The work is a manifesto from the British musicians of the English court that looks for a balance between the patronage of foreign musicians and a recognition that British musicians and their music had risen to a level that was comparable to the best in the world, calling on the Queen to assign specific patronage to the cause of DE ANGLICORUM MUSICA. It speaks directly to England’s inferiority complex, explicitly citing the tendency for England’s musicians to sit in obscurity.

An English painting circa 1565 of a family group by the anonymous Master of the Countess of Warwick. One of the music books (the other illegible) is a motet of Josquin des Prez.

Although the work is published in 1575, I think that it was a long time in coming, and reflects ambition in the court of Elizabeth, after the Reformation that had once again separated and ostracised England from the majority of Europe. The sentiments expressed in it directly reflect the 1561 lease of the Chamber of Presence given to John Rose and his wife noted for being “of right virtuous and honest conversation and the said Rose hate a most notable gift given of God in the making of instruments even soche a gift as his fame is sped throrough a great part of Christendom and his name as moche and now both for virtue and conning commended in Italy than in his native country“.

“John Rose together with his wife Jone are of right virtuous and honest conversation and the said Rose hath a most notable gift given of God in the making of instruments even soche a gift as his fame is sped throrough a great part of Christendom and his name as moche and now both for virtue and conning commended in Italy than in his native country and in favouring all excellent work and virtuous people …” Bridewell Court Record Books, 8 August 1561

In fact, Bridewell had been the site of an organ workshop instituted by Cardinal Wolseley around 1515. The Reformation had reduced interest in these instruments, and although to some extent tenuous, it makes good sense to suppose that Rose took over the pre-existing workshops, enabling him to become a central figure in the making of English instruments. The evidence is unclear, but the idea that the English championed the viola da gamba in contradistinction to the violin (and other instruments regarded as Roman Catholic) as a result of the Reformation is a plausible one,

One instrument made in 1580 by John Rose, presumably as a New Year’s gift for Elizabeth I (that was dispensed – as was the custom – to a favourite, Lord Tollemache) simply challenges all of our preconceptions of making outside of Italy. It is in essence a five course guitar, described in the inlay around the ribs as “Cymbalum Decachordon”, and is simply unimaginably ornate and fine, at least as good, if not better, even by the highest standards of Cremonese work or of the Brescian citterns of Girolamo Virchi, Thus, whether or not his instruments made it over to Italy, it stands shoulder to shoulder with the finest work from Italy that the English would have seen.

We are still some way from having a clear view of Rose’s situation in London, and that of a broader London trade. By the time of the lease in 1561 he had already been at Bridewell long enough to erect outbuildings at his own “great cost and charge”, and so this may track his residency there back closer to 1553 when King Edward VI gifted the palace to the City of London to become an orphanage and a prison for “disorderly women”. Tantalisingly the year prior to this the London merchant Sir Thomas Challoner had him repair a Venice Lute and sell him a viol ‘of the best sort’, though we do not know if this was from Bridewell or not.

Although the majority of Bridewell served as a prison and orphanage, much of the mystery seems to be uncovered by looking at old maps and images. “The Bridewell” – it remains a slang term – comprised the northerly courtyards. Meanwhile the “Chamber of Presence” and associated parts of the former grand buildings formed a separate area along the riverside. This would never become part of the prison, This part occupied by Rose and present on the 1563 Agas map was destroyed in the Fire of London and became timber wharfs to aid in the reconstruction of the city. This helps to eliminate much of the head-scratching about how the palace could function in two different ways.

Reconstruction of Bridewell Palace from the River Thames

The implication is that there was some kind of Royal pressure on the City of London to perpetuate Rose’s use of these apartments and workshops, leading to the 1561 lease. A few meters away the City of London (essentially an independent City State) was governed by a council of guilds with an order of precedence that had been set into law. The problem with this guild system is that there was no room for trades, such as instrument making, that fell outside of it statutory composition and were simply too small to assemble a guild with enough members to comprise a vote within the Corporation of London, it’s governing body. Though Bridewell belonged to the Corporation from 1553, it stood outside the ancient city walls and therefore was not subject to it’s regulations, serving as a “liberty” instead. As may become clearer and important, this meant that John Rose did not have to be a member of a City guild, but more to the point, neither did anyone who he might have employed. If this included instrument makers from other parts of Europe travelling to England, it would have presented a seamless compromise to the problems of guild regulation.

I think that the privilege held by John Rose went further simply than a cheap lease on a prime piece of real estate – the five pounds per year that he was obliged to pay was the annual allowance for a royal musician to buy strings, or half the price that English viols and Cremonese violins would habitually be sold at to musicians of the Royal Court. As any violin dealer knows, in a good year that might not have mattered so much: In 1565 a mother-of-pearl lute was made in England that was bought by Lord Berkeley for a staggering 100 Marks (sixty-six pounds), whilst other reports from the period also relate to prices many times higher than instruments bought by court musicians, which in turn were probably three or four times higher than the normal prices paid by normal people.

However, the system of patronage employed by the Tudor courts was open to entrepreneurism. Hence Thomas Tallis and William Byrd held a monopoly on the printing of music in England, allowing them a controlling stake in what was produced and revenue from licensing anything that was sold. Other musicians, including instrument makers received monopolies on assigned quantities of imported Gascogny wine and Toulouse Woad (a valuable blue dye). How they asserted their rights in order to make money was up to them.

My thought is that Rose was probably empowered to act as the head of a cartel for instrument makers that operated under its own jurisdiction in the same manner as a guild. Back in 1515 when Bridewell was Cardinal Wolseley’s palace there is evidence that an organ-making workshop had been established there, and that may be sufficient to explain the attraction of the place for instrument making. Looking from another direction, what becomes interesting when we begin to look at instruments from this early period of English making is the degree to which different examples cross-match one and other stylistically. Everything points towards individual craftsmen working within a single workshop, or at the very least a single dominant workshop setting the standard for London making. Hence, instruments with the labels of John Strong, George Gilbs, William Bowcleffe and to some extent Richard Blunt all point back to one single point. In Henry Jaye’s work, from the next generation, we see the reuse of patterns for the relief carving in the pegboxes that otherwise reinforces the sense of some kind of cohesive cartel or in it’s old sense – “company” with Rose, empowered by his lease of Bridewell, making money by controlling instrument making.

The Rose family seem to have remained at Bridewell into 1607, but an extraordinary document from 1604 orders the Fletcher’s Company of the City of London to admit the instrument makers Henry Jaye along with Floris and Thomas Barnard to be made freemen of the company by the process of redemption. Although this involved a small payment to the Company, the result was to bypass the years of apprenticeship usually required for membership of a guild and thus for freedom of the City of London, suggesting that they were masters enough of their trade for their skills to translate across.. The name “Floris” suggests Dutch or Flemish origins. If Flemish, another instrument maker, Lodowicjk Theewes who made harpsichords had moved to England from Antwerp by 1573. It would not particularly surprise me if we were to discover that Henry Jaye was from Füssen – perhaps Heinrich Jais – that is entirely me speculating.

1579 Claviorganum (Harpsichord mounted over a pipe organ) by Lodowicjk Theewes, an Antwerp member of the guild of St Luke who moved to England by 1573.

The order suggests external pressure placed on the company, and may be either the vestiges of royal patronage, or specific civic patronage for skilled craftsmen who sat outside of the conventional guild system. Perhaps after the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the structure of patronage enjoyed by the Rose family had run its course, and the Corporation of London were looking to repurpose the Bridewell apartments.

Although it didn’t land Jaye and the Barnard’s with a palace, it gave these makers the status of merchants and provided valuable access to the City of London, the networks of merchants and finance. We might not think of these as terribly important for stringed instrument makers, but the provision of catgut strings required access to markets as far apart as Venice and Munich, whilst the routine import of lutes via Venice and Cologne into the Port of London. In Venice, Stefano Pio has brought to light the 1607 death certificate of ‘il magnifico signor Gifre liuterio merchant inglese’, (The magnificent Mr Geoffrey, English lute maker and merchant” identified elsewhere as the son of ‘Ruggiero di Salopia’ (Roger of Shropshire). Another significant link to the Italian lute trade may have been one ‘Melchoir de Fombroker, Italion and Lutmaker’ recorded in the parish of St Olave, Hart Street in 1563 along with one John White ‘amaine and lute maker’. If we are to accept de Fombroker as a transliteration of Tieffenbrucker from the Paduan or Venetian generations of the lute-making dynasty we have an exact parallel to the sighting of Caspar Tieffenbrucker in France in the 1560s.

The markets for Catgut Strings recommended to London merchants who wanted to provide for lute players, in John Dowland’s letter from A Varietie of Lute Lessons, 1610.

Floris Barnard, or “Florence Barnet” as he is charmingly named in 1684 was known as a violin maker working on the Strand, between the City of London and Westminster, whilst Henry Jaye established a workshop in Southwark on the opposite side of the Thames, both outside of the jurisdiction of the City of London. This is complicated given the special privileges they had received, but it would seem to be explained by the markets that they dealt with. Other trades occupied entire streets and quarters of London, but instrument makers were so unusual that a location in the city offered no advantage to their business. Southwark, by contrast, was the main conduit to the City from the south. The Strand gave the best access to the nobility, so their business may have been better served where they were more identifiable to passing trade. The other reason that I am edging towards, yet again, was that these established freemen of London were able to employ foreigners, something that could not be done within the city walls.

Some evidence emerges that Henry Jaye’s business concern had become the spiritual successor of Rose’s workshop, because here again we see disparate instruments which are nevertheless bound together by common techniques and materials. Amongst other binding characteristics, there is an identifiable carving style that appears on several heads of viols by Henry Jaye, which is also exhibited on a bandora made in 1618 by Francis Palmer, and on a cittern whose label provides the enigmatic name ‘Petrus Raitta’. The suggestion that has emerged about this name is that it relates to the Roman province that included the town of Füssen, hence: Peter of Füssen and made shortly after the dendro date of 1619. We discover around this time from the returns of Aliens in the the Borough of Southwark that one “Thomas Miller, alias Maller” was commuting from Holborn across the Thames to the west of the city to find work in 1621.

Thomas Miller alias Maller, of the parishe of St. Andrewes in Holborne, Dutchman, by profession an instrument maker and noe denizen (as himself repeatethe) keepethe house and servants. 
(Return, 19 March, 1621 by the Master and Wardens of the Joiner’s, Ceilers and Carvers Company of all Strangers using their trades within the Borough of Southwark.)

Holborn itself was a nest of professional musicians positioned between the court and the city. Through this period the viol makers Richard Blunt, Thomas Aldred and Henry Smith were all active, so why the need to travel across the river for work? Henry Jaye’s workshop perhaps?

Plan of Blackman Street by Ralph Tresswell, 1611. The second building is leased to “Luce Raymond”

Some evidence comes from another Füssen maker, Jacob Rayman. He is first found as “Luce Raymond” – surely “Lute” Raymond in Blackman Street, Long Southwark in a survey of 1611. There is an unconformable historical record indicating two generations of instrument makers in the family in London. It may be that the Jacob of the 1640s who we regard as the father, may well be the second generation. The viola of 1641, jointly the earliest dated English instrument of the violin family, shows exactly the same deep red varnish that is characteristic of Henry Jaye’s work from a decade or two earlier. Perhaps after Jaye disappeared from the scene, the baton was handed to Rayman, just in time for the English Civil War when his workshop became part of the garrison defending the southern approaches of London.

In terms of surviving instruments, the Rayman of 1641 is not only the earliest surviving English instrument of the ‘modern’ violin family, but it is conspicuous also amongst the earliest labelled and dated instruments that we have been able to find from any Füssen-trained maker. At first, I was rather hopeful that the Linarol-like soundholes of the viola reflected the kinds of instruments that Rayman had seen in England, as some kind of indicator of the Italian instruments purchased by the Royal Court. A 1643 small bass by Simon Gfoller, a Füssen maker working in Schwarz puts a serious spanner in the works over that idea because it shows a very common theme in its design.

This gives me confidence that Füssen had evolved its own early-seventeenth century style early enough that these disparate makers were able to work according to the same theme, even though Rayman is first evidenced in England over twenty years beforehand. There are lots of assumptions inherent to that kind of speculation, but although the 1640s feel like mid-history in Cremona, with Nicola Amati on the verge of taking on apprentices and expansion of the Cremonese school, it seems that we are right on the cusp of history for the rest of Europe. Does that mean that makers of the Füssen diaspora didn’t make violins prior to this? I think there are a variety of issues that have affected survival rates. To begin with, Füssen’s position on the trade routes to Italy explains why these instruments are so similar to Italian instruments of the sixteenth-century – Venetian and Brescian instruments in particular. Obviously this has led to the wholesale loss of labels. Secondly, the violin in general was a much rarer instrument than we think of with far more restricted use. Third, as must equally apply to regional Italian makers, I think that as string technology advanced, old instruments of any school that couldn’t work to pitch as well as others because of their dimensions probably became musically redundant. The toll on everything from the violins we see in the Neapolitan paintings of Caravaggio to the specialised sizes of instruments used by the French Royal court during the time of Mersenne and Rameau simply got scrapped, so that however rare they might have been in the first place, surviving instruments still count for an infinitesimally small proportion of what was made.


In France, where our history is so laden with the legacy of Andrea Amati’s instruments, it is curious to consider the almost-familiar violin-like instruments in the 1562 portrait engraving of Caspar Duiffprougcar, which have a striking similarity to those played on the Mount Parnassus in the Valois tapestry of the ball for the Polish Ambassadors in 1573, surely enough consistency to suggest consistent use. I think that the influence of Cremonese instruments in the sixteenth century was both as dramatic and terminal as that of Catherine de Medici’s reputation. France was in political and religious turmoil and after the sudden death of Charles IX came Catherine’s death in 1589 followed in the same year by the assassination of King Henry III and with that the end of the House of Valois. What use would the newly installed Bourbon Henry IV have with the emblems of Catherine de Medici’s vanity painted all over these instruments? Moreover Henry IV was a protestant Huguenot, and the Valois kings had massacred thousands of his religion. Had the instruments not been painted they might have survived differently. The contemporary chronicler Pierre Taisan de l’estoile wrote of Catherine’s death, “that she had no sooner died than she was treated with as much consideration as a dead goat”. The Italianate pageants of the 1560s and 1570s may have provoked the French nobility into emulating these new ideas, but just like participants from other countries they developed them on their own terms, and perhaps in contradistinction to the relics of a disgraced regime.

It is significant that as English taste for Cremonese instruments grew in the early 17th century there is evidence of Cremonese instruments being sold to the English court through the agency of Estienne Nau from Paris in the 1620s. Later in 1662 when John Bannister returned from Paris, it was with expenses that included £50 for two Cremonese violins, and we know specifically that the 1564 Andrea Amati in the Ashmolean was owned by the English violinist William Corbett (alongside the example of 1574 in South Dakota) from sometime around 1700.

Andrea Amati 1572, the later French belly with a youngest tree ring date of 1648 cross matching French guitars of the 1650s period. (slightly reduced in the lower bouts)
Viola by Andrea Amati, with a mid-seventeenth century belly, also done with great care, but subsequently drastically reduced. (Musee de la Musique, Paris)

Despite all of this, some of the Andrea Amatis remained in Paris until after the Revolution. Amongst these, there are two relics of violas (in Paris and South Dakota) with later French tops from the middle of the seventeenth century. The Henry IV Brothers Amati has a later top dated to 1632, and a newly discovered composite Andrea from 1572 has an extremely fine belly with a dendro date of 1648. Both of these significantly cross-match other French instruments, especially guitars, from around this period.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, for it is in 1653 that Jean Baptiste Lully arrived from Italy to France, impressing Louis XIV sufficiently that he was allowed to form the Petit Violons, a private band of musicians for the King’s service. Although Lully absorbed the French way of playing at the expense of his Italian style, nevertheless the private band served in contradistinction to the 24 violins of the French court that continued to play in a conservative style that had evolved at the beginning of the century. It’s not a bad supposition to suggest that Lully’s entrance to the court, along with the passage of time since the assassination of Henry III probably brought the remaining, and possibly abandoned Cremonese instruments back into the spotlight, causing the mid-century restorations that are evidenced on at least four of them.

The fate of these Amatis is quite in keeping with other French violins that appear from this time, Marc Rosensteil’s examination of surviving examples is a useful article published on, but we seem to see an inherent problem with this early making of instruments that were rather savagely repaired by replacing tops throughout the remainder of the century. It simply seems to be a French thing of the time. There is a pochette by Jacques Dumesnel from 1655 which is really our only complete and labelled instrument of violin form that can be comfortably identified, although viols, pochettes as well as plucked instruments tell a different story for stringed instrument making in this period. I don’t want to trespass into Marc’s particular expertise, but in discussing the issues of French makers, he was particularly vocal about the problem that we have many instruments out of which we can form a French school, and we have many names of makers that we know made violins, but it is seldom possible to put one with another. I’d really like to emphasise that we should apply special rules to seventeenth century Northern European instruments, because their value resides in identifying the school in which they were made, they are rare on those grounds, and having the same expectations of attribution to a specific name that we have for 18th or 19th century instruments is simply a dead end in most cases.

Pochette by Jacques Dumesnel, Paris 1655 (Musee de la Musique)


Intellectually I want to set my store for my hypothesis about Fussen. It is clear that the violin was ubiquitous across the whole of Europe by the middle of the seventeenth century, although it is also evident that the violin increased in popularity significantly around this time. Out of Italy there may have been a snowball effect of the increasing numbers of sonatas and canzonas for the violin that had found their way into print from the 1630s, and thus into broader dissemination: Biagio Marini, Andrea Falconeri, Maurizio Cazzati, Tarquinio Merula, Marco Uccellini just some of the composers to develop this new genre with the violin specifically in mind. Whilst these may have simply served as a formalisation of the kind of dance music that was customary for the violin, it gradually put the violin in a direction that was mostly influenced from Italy.

What interests me in this scenario, is the rate at which “modern” Italianate instruments overtook archaic proto-violins, and in what context. Whilst printed violin works provide evidence of a gradual development of taste, I think that the steady building of the foundations falls short of explaining why the instrument would surge in popularity between 1640 and 1660, or why the result of this surge in popularity would end up with a decline in archaic traditions and a wholesale acceptance of the standards of making previously only found in Brescia and Cremona. Finding answers to this is a little bit like wandering blindfolded in a dark room. However, the few earliest Fussen violins that exist, all dated to the 1640s seem to suggest a point at which they became more interested in emulating the violins of Brescia than working in whatever porto-traditions had previously existed. Here there is an obvious correlation, not simply with the Plague that had swept through Northern Italy killing Girolamo Amati and terminating the Brescian school of making, but I think that this makes us overlook the far more substantial issues that had brought the plague to Northern Italy in the first place: Crucial to French strategy in the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648 was the blockade of the transalpine routes used by the Hapsburgs to get military supplies and troops from Naples & Sicily that inhibited, in turn, mercantile trade. The occupation of Lombardy and Venetia to close off the alpine passes fundamentally shaped trade in those years. Already in the 1620s musicians in the English court submitted receipts for Cremona violins bought in Paris, which may be evidence that Italian things were generally more difficult to buy from Italy during this period.

Hence when we look at Jacob Stainer, whose earliest authenticated violin is now from 1638, working in Absam on the Austrian side of the Alps, or the enigmatic first Matias Albani who must have been working in Bolzano from about the same time, we see a similar state of affairs to Füssen, with centres developing along these old trade routes to supply the demand from Northern Europe. In a very clear way we could potentially go so far as to hold the burgeoning violin making in Füssen as a direct inheritance from the decline of Brescia in around 1630. When we see early Füssen instruments that have more in common with Brescian instruments than not, it poses the question of how consciously they took over this market, ultimately supplying cheaper instruments into Italy as well as into Northern Europe.

In 1637 Father Micanzio, writing between Monteverdi and Gallileo explained that “those of Cremona cost at the lowest twelve ducats each, whilst the others (Brescian) can be had for less than four ducats.” However, contemporary receipts tend to indicate that many lutes, viols, violins could be bought in the seventeenth century for less than four ducats, and Brescian prices themselves may have been comparatively high. My suggestion is that from about 1640 Fussen makers not only copied Brescian instruments, filling that niche in the market, but that they were highly price competitive from the outset, presumably charging similar to what they had charged in the past for whatever proto-violins they might have had. The combined effect would seem to have made Italian styles of violin more accessible across Northern Europe.

The implication must be that the Fussen makers deliberately emulated Brescian instruments in order to dominate and expand a market. In turn they offered their instruments in established markets that they had commanded for more or less a century- “Cologne Lutes” in English records are so called because that was the market where the taxes were levied, rather than because they were made there. It is obvious that these were made in Füssen. Instrument makers through the seventeenth century in England were using Cullen-cliff, split wood that had likewise been bought at the markets in Cologne but had travelled downriver from Fussen and the Alps. This is the reason why so many seventeenth century instruments share a common wood source.

Already, if we are to go again to the Galileo letters of 1636-37, Cremonese instruments not only commanded even more money, “at least” 12 ducats, rather than “less than” four ducats, but the same letters justify Cremonese instruments as the “non plus ultra”. Clearly it would be a matter of time before instrument makers of the Fussen diaspora began to synthesise Cremonese making – Stainer (and perhaps Albani) already were specifically taking that role. However, it seems that the Füssen ethos was always to sell low and stack high. Although Füssen trained instrument makers that travelled to other places made sophisticated instruments, it is unusual to find anything from Füssen that seems to have real aspirations to rival Amati, Albani or Stainer.

I think the answer to Füssen’s conservatism is that it knew that it’s geographical position remote from any major city enabled it to make good money on the instruments it wholesaled at markets – there is some evidence to suggest chiefly Cologne and Munich. As wholesaler with instruments passing through a number of merchants before finding their buyer, they would have been quite far removed from the final sales price. I think its fairly obvious to see that there is little incentive to step up to producing instruments that are more costly because of the general reputation that Fussen (or Cologne) instruments would have had and the number of middle-men that would impact the overall price and therefore its market competitiveness. If you are going to produce something very fine it makes sense to cut out the middlemen so that it does not end up being uncompetitive in the market. I think the other factor, which is as true today is that if customers want to spend more, they invariably want to have some kind of personal assurance, that is harder to provide on an instrument made in some distant Alpine stronghold. Hence I think that Füssen’s stack-high, sell-cheap pragmatism in making opened the doors for instrument makers connected with the city to produce finer works wherever they happened to be.

Hence, instruments made by makers established in cities were able to concentrate on the instruments that they could make themselves for greater profit, and the common theme across Northern Europe as well as Italy is to see this pattern. Here and there, we see workshops that could be described as working in the Füssen manner. This would explain the violins of the Testore family in Milan, as it would the provincial Pamphilon family who worked deep in the English countryside a small distance from one of the main trade roots that connected London to the north of the country. Hamburg, also a major trading port is better known for the instruments of Joachim Tielke, but very ordinary instruments made by craftsmen associated with his workshop are made that seem to have been produced to capitalise on the wider market that came with being a port and market town. These are more typical of the crude instruments we see for example, in Flemish tavern scenes.


A very early Hamburg-made cello circa 1680, by Fleischer or Goldt, workers who also contributed to the Tielke workshop. This enigmatically contains a label of Adrien Moetjens a bookseller and ‘salon’ operator in Den Haag who later held auctions of instruments, and was heavily involved in the musical society of his city.
Fiddler’s Croft in Little Clavering in the Essex countryside was the centre of the Pamphilon violin making dysnasty from 1690 to 1728. Edward Pamphilon seems to have been active in the area from the 1650s.
Typical English violin by Edward Pamphilon circa 1670, plain wood and roughly made.

In the main, even in the early sixteenth century with the great Bolognese and Padua lute makers that had settled from Füssen, and through the guitar-making traditions of Venice with the Sellas family we see eminently better works made by makers who originated in Füssen but were working in far-off cities, be that in Italy, London, or elsewhere. I think there is a lot to be said for the idea that these characters acted as the endpoint for exported Füssen instruments in addition to making at a specialised higher level.

Wilhelm Azan, Aix-en-Provence, circa 1665.

It very quickly becomes clear that violin culture transformed enormously over the whole of Europe in a very sudden way sometime around the middle of the seventeenth century. Perhaps purely because of the supply from Fussen and the way that disrupted the market. We see in 1641 the first evidence that the Amati workshop was growing to host a succession of craftsmen, very few of whom remained in Cremona, not only reinforcing the idea that there was unprecedented demand for Cremonese instruments, but perhaps showing a similar strategy to that of Füssen of creating trading links with other cities across Italy. It seems clear to me that violin playing very clearly developed exponentially across Europe in the period from 1640 to 1660, so that although there is strong evidence beforehand, it clearly became codified in a much stronger way. In the low countries there are many paintings from before this time depicting violins, but there are vastly more from after about 1660 suggesting a surge in popularity. It is worth remembering that Johannes Vermeer, famous for his musical scenes and who worked in this earlier time doesn’t show a violin in any of his surviving paintings of domestic music.

The 1654 first edition of A Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick

In England with the dangers of the aftermath of the Civil War, Roger North wrote the memorable lines that:

During ye troubles & when most other good arts languished musick held up her head, not at Court nor (In ye cant of those times) profane theatres, but In private socaity, for many chose rather to fiddle at home, then to goe out & be knockt on ye head abroad; and the enterteinem was very much courted & made use of not only In country but citty familys’

There is the charming account of the Oxford student, Anthony a Wood who took up playing the violin in 1652, playing it in fourths because he knew no better, and couldn’t find a teacher to instruct him. Two years on and, John Playford published the first edition of A Breef Introduction to the Skill of Musick, an unparalleled publication in Europe because it was cheaply made to a mass market, and provided rudimentary instruction for learning to sing, and to play the bass viol and treble violin. It was extraordinarily popular, sometimes going through more than one edition per year and the backbone of English instrument teaching into the 1730s. Shortly after it was published Anthony a Wood found a teacher who taught him to tune the instrument, and in 1655 Thomas Baltzar came to England, probably from the Swedish Court. HIs reception in London and his consistent fame seems to have had a significant effect on taste in music in London. John Evelyn, the diarist was on hand to record his playing in March 1656.

This night I was invited by Mr. Rog: L’Estrange to heare the incomperable Lubicer on the Violin, his variety upon a few notes & plaine ground with that wonderfull dexterity, as was admirable, & though a very young man, yet so perfect & skillful as there was nothing so crosse & perplext, which being by our Artists, brought to him, which he did not at first sight, with ravishing sweetenesse & improvements, play off, to the astonishment of our best Masters: In Summ, he plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort, so as the rest, flung-downe their Instruments, as acknowledging a victory.

It is almost as if Baltzar’s Paganiniesque reception in 1655 sealed the fortunes of the violin in England, and it is easy to frame the subsequent history of the violin in terms of our Civil War and the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 when Charles II instituted a band of 24 violins modelled after those of the French Court where he had lived out his exile. When Evelyn witnessed the royal musicians at the chapel Royal in December 1662, following the return of John Bannister from a period working with Lully, he criticised the sudden new way of playing.

one of his Majesty’s chaplains preached, after which instead of the ancient, grave and solemn wind music accompanying the organ , there was introduced a consort of twenty-four violins after the fantastical light way of the French – better suiting a tavern or playhouse than a church. This was the first time of the change, and now we heard no more the cornett, which gave life to the organ, for that instrument in which the English were so skilful, was quite left off.

J.B. Medina “The Cabal”, musicians of Charles II’s court including Bannister and the notoriously drunkard Baltzar – possibly the greatest hangover painting in art history.
A 1660s Thomas Urquhart made in Westminster, a city that was entirely dominated by the Royal Court.

It is straightforward absurd to suggest that the English reception of the violin is the model of the rest of Europe. That makes fundamentally no sense whatsoever, so it is probably better to suggest that the winds of change across Europe were so strong that they even took root in the war-torn religious backwater that England was of the 1650s. We have a number of violins by Thomas Urquhart made in the 1660s, and it seems that the Pamphilon family were running at that time, though labels put in by the Hills are a problem. Violins from the seventeenth century are generally very rare.

I think that in the Low Countries and Britain, there is a common thread in the way that instruments were valued, which is different from in France where the ethics of replacement parts instead of restoration imply that very little connoisseurly value was applied to violins. I would go further to justify my views about France because in other instruments we see an obsession with modification. Shem Mackey has recently showed that the Duiffprougcar “Map of Paris” viol must have been assembled out of ancient parts by Michel Collichon in the 1680s period, and this was the time that many English viols simply had their necks removed by the French to be replaced with those of seven instead of six strings. Harpsichords fared in even more extraordinary ways, and could undergo complete transformations out of their early 17th century style to conform to the new fashions of decorative arts. Value for old things seems to have been expressed in very different ways, leading to ethical consequences that go against our own perceptions of preservation.

The Map of Paris viol assembled by Michel Collichon from ancient parts around 1680-90.

We hear from Thomas Mace in 1676 that Charles I had made his willingness to pay £100 for a lute by Laux Maler or a viol by John Rose in the 1630s. One of these lutes emerges in 1649 having been given by the King to his lutenist shortly before his execution. At the time the Dutch polymath Constantijn Huygens was on the hunt for such a lute and was offered it for £100 on the grounds that “the price will be what it cost the king”. The Dutch connoisseur Johannes Thysius had violins that cost no more than 12 guilders, but a Laux Maler Lute bought in France and a Ruckers harpsichord that he paid 80 guilders each, and three John Rose viols from London that had set him back 60 guilders a piece. A manuscript from around 1660, known as the Mary Burwell Lute book is just one of a number of detailed sources that demonstrates the English obsession with connoisseurship old Italian lutes:

” . . . . besides all Bolonia Lutes are in the shape of a pare and those are the best Lutes but there goodness is not attributed to there figure but to their antiquity; to the Skill of those Lutemakers to the quality of the wood and seasoning of it and to the varnishing of it. The Bolonia Lutes are knowne by there shape and varnish which is darkish red. Laux Mauller and Hunts Frith have beene the twoe cheifest Lutemakers that have lived at Bolonia who have rendered there names immortall by the melodious sound of that famous Instrument and will still make them resound through all the earth as long as it will please God to maineteyne the harmony of the universe”

In 1661 Samuel Pepys demonstrated his own interest in the value of older instruments, and provides a key, in my mind to the developing trends of the next few years. :‘..and so to Paul’s Churchyard to Hunt’s, and there found my Theorbo done, which pleases me very well, and costs me 26s . to the altering. But now he tells me it is as good a lute as any in England, and is worth well 10l. [£10]” For whatever reason the English merchant classes had picked up on the rarity of old instruments, maybe in part in reaction to the cultural prohibitions of the Puritan period. This seems to have inspired a burgeoning market for antique instruments.

A Thomas Urquhart from 1663 alongside a 1648 Nicolo Amati, Although there are many differences there is a stunning similarity in the arching.

Somewhere in this the violin came in to vogue. In 1662 John Bannister paid £50 for two Cremona violins, bought in France – a large but not significant price, and his rival Thomas Baltzar submitted a similar receipt in the same year. Around 1670 a Neapolitan violinist, Nicola Matteis came to London and made an outstanding entrance, only marred by his insistence of silence before being played – a disastrous requirement in the presence of Charles II. His influence continued away from court within the merchant communities of the city, putting Italian musical style before that of the French. In turn the number of still life paintings by artists such as Edward Collier for the English market that contain violins is simply staggering. Demand seems to have burgeoned in the 1670s, so much so that in 1683, when the boom had begun to slow. Edward Chamberlayne wrote the simple words “Nor have the Cremona Violins or Loxmollar Lutes been latterly of such excessive prices as formerly”. In 1692 an auction of  ‘A number of curious violins, Cremonia and others’ seems to have exceeded the £50 mark for a single violin and in 1706, Nicola Cosimi sold a violin to Lord Baltimore for £100.

I think that that through Europe archaic proto-violins tended to be made on a relatively large scale, and that very few of these have survived. Widescale making from Füssen also existed that supplied most cities who had trading links via the German markets of Cologne and Munich, but the majority of these instruments may simply have perished as hard-worked instruments of no significant value. However, the pockets of survival that we get come from societies that had large merchant classes, large city populations and where affluence allowed them to develop cultures that would pay over the odds for instruments that had greater qualities in terms of sound, age and place of origin. Cultures that valued these principles ultimately ended up with secondary markets of makers working to compete with the prized antique instruments, and thus you have a raising of quality and a standardisation based upon the most sought-after instruments. Hence cities were able to support resident violin makers producing instruments for those that could not afford Cremonese instruments, yet had money to spend which is why we have areas of survival. Jan Boumeester’s instruments in Amsterdam date from at least as early as 1653, with viols reported by Henrik Jacobs from the 1663.. The Netherlands also had a booming art trade in the middle classes. Like England and France, the number of instruments known and the number of makers that they can be tied to is very small, and these are invariably close copies of brothers Amati, quite different from the sorts of instruments found in the paintings of the same time and place.

In the low countries, Hendrik Jacobs is not only a very important maker, but he too is effectively just about the first maker that is known to us if a viol dated 1663 is to be trusted. The Belgian city of Antwerp had excelled at making harpsichords from the sixteenth century and the vibrant Ruckers-Couchet dynasty was still in its prime. The Hoffmans dynasty of violin makers was into its third generation by the 1650s, though this is the first from which instruments can be identified – perhaps because Mathijs Hoffmans III was the first to develop an Amati pattern instrument. perhaps the first that was emulating the Cremonese tradition. In Konigsburg in Prussia, a double bass by Gottfried Tielke from 1662 is just about everything there is to be had. Paris has a number of pochettes that have survived by such makers as Jacques Dumesnil, but instruments by the earliest of the fabled Medard family prove incredibly difficult to pin down. I don’t know if there is a single original Medard label from the seventeenth century. In each case, there are considerable traditions of viol making going on in these Northern European cities, so the skill and inclination to make violin-family instruments existed.

Jan Strick identifies this Hoffmans violin, made in Antwerp as from Mathijs Hoffmans III made in the 1650s.

In 1684 Nicolo Amati died. He is not the end fo the Amati dynasty, but the end of its dominance in Cremona, and there must be many reasons why the Amati’s allowed their power to slide in Stradivari’s favour. It seems odd to consider that the violin was now more popular and more widely played than at any time beforehand. The lute, viol, cittern were all in decline as stringed instruments as taste centred more solidly on the violin family. It may have been that at the time, the market for the non plus ultra violins of the Cremonese was sufficiently saturated with antique examples that had greater desirability, given the limited numbers of people wanting to spend significantly more. Ultimately it is difficult to understand why something that seemed to be so highly esteemed would apparently lose its market to the point that Girolamo Amati, Nicolo’s successor would leave Cremona to pursue other business interests. I want to stop this talk before we reach 1700 because there is a very different outlook in that slightly later period, as markets expanded further across European cities . In some ways the development comes full circle with one of three Robert Cuthbert violins made in Covent Garden that are known, made in 1685, the year after Amati’s death it is a tour-de-force in direct copying of his work, except the f-holes that he made his own. There are frankly better copies and better instruments all round, but we know of Cuthbert that the Roman violinist Nicola Cosimi bought his violins to bring back to Rome to pass for Italians.

I have examined some of the reasons why instruments might not survive so well from this period, but at the same time most makers for whom instruments are known only have a few to their name, so it is clear that other factors are also in place that prevent the survival of very viable instruments. When we see how few violins by Jacob Rayman survive, it is perhaps not surprising that equally famous makers of the time might have nothing to show for their work. We are talking, in geneneral of the rarest of the rarest. At the same time ,archival research pulls up many names for whom there are no instruments whatsoever. In the 1660s Henry Comey sold violins to the music school of Oxford University, and gets mentioned elsewhere as a very celebrated maker. He may be the last generation of the family that came from Cremona in the 1520s and who Zuan Piero, and his sons George and Innocent, settled in London in 1538. Many viols survive that show makers with aptitude to make violins, but where none survive, and other names appear – Floris Barnard, another claimed to have made violins. With these considerable lists in our consciousness, there are also instruments assigned to popular names, that do not match up. The Hills called anything that wasn’t an Urquhart a Pamphilon and anything that wasn’t a Pamphilon an Urquhart. If it seems to be older, it is a Rayman. We have seen similar issues with other makers. Certain makers have simply gained ‘reputations’ that allow their name to be stuck to anything that might be of their city.

With the help of dendrochronology we are able to say a good deal more about these instruments, and we can at least put them into specific schools and regions in many cases, but finding the names of makers, as we are expected to do in order to apportion cultural and commercial value is often not possible. This is not so much a commercial question of rising prices, but a cultural one that we need to be more sensitive of the nature of early Northern European instruments, and the idea that they have value and rarity and can be located firmly within a cultural fabric even if we fall short of giving them names. If we begin to think in this way collectively, we may eventually have a far richer picture of the early days of violin making in Northern Europe.

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