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The Evolution of Violin Shape 1

The evolution of violins can only be dated with approximate accuracy and considerable divergence due to the small amount of research on the history of this instrument and having few documents as evidence thereof. It is dated to the beginning of the 16th century by some sources. It is written in the book of J. H. van dér Meer entitled Musical Instruments: "... the origin of violin can be dated probably no later than to the 20s of the 16th century. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Instruments, the violin, which is the smallest member of the violin family, evolved around 1550 from Medieval instruments, e.g.: fiddles, rebecs and lire da braccio. These instruments already had four strings, tuning pegs placed on their sides, foldable flat sides, and /-shaped sound posts, and they barely differed from the instruments of today". Historians are also uncertain about the creator of the violin shape that is used today as well. Some doubt that it can be related to a single creator, they rather believe that it has been evolving through several generations of violin makers. To be aware of this would be important not only for the history of this instrument, but it would also help us learn about the factors that influenced the evolution of the violin shape, the hidden relationship between the shape of the violin and visual arts. More literary sources – without scientifically proven certification thereof – associate the 'invention' of the violin with Kaspar Tieffenbrucker (1514-1571).  However, the violins attributed to him were later proved to be made by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875), a French violin maker, who lived about two hundred years later. Others believe that Bertolotti Gasparo da Salot and Andrea Amati were the original creators of the violin. In fact, there are these two Italian violin makers whose violins and violas we know from the earliest period – the second half of the 16th century, the origin of which can be verified by advanced scientific analyses. But it does not exclude the possibility that these masters, concluding from the biographical data that have been revealed thereof, could not have made similar instruments earlier. Being aware of the truth is made even harder by the fact that these data cannot be taken for granted either. There are differences between the dates indicated next to some of the masters in the different literary sources. Gasparo da Salo's year of birth is dated to 1537 or 1542, while his year of death to 1609. This small divergence in time between the possible years of birth does not pose problems to our research. However, in the case of Andrea Amati, the authenticity of the comparison of the period's visual arts and other creative activities can become uncertain, as his date of birth is dated between 1500-1538, and his date of death between 1577-1580. A divergence, spanning more decades, derives from the uncertainty of his date of birth, consequently, the comparison of the evolution of the violin shape and the approach to the styles of visual arts that existed at the same time can also lead to a distorted conclusion. If Andrea Amati was born at the very beginning of the 16th century, we can question the fact that his form-creating skills and creative approach were evolved from the trends in ideals and artistic styles that emerged at the end of his life, which was in the second half of the century.

The literature about Gasparo da Salo affirms that he had probably made violins already in the 1560s; his earliest known violins were made around 1564. This fact is further strengthened by a record describing that Möckel, who was registered as the founder of the Brescian school of violin making from 1560, in his work The Art of Violin Making, presents a viola made by "Gasparo Bertolotti di Salo Brescia around 1550" (the authenticity of this date is uncertain with regards to the master's date of birth, which was probably between 1537 and 1542). It makes the clarification more difficult that the still existing, known violins attributed to him were signed only with his name, the date of manufacture was not indicated on them. His still existing violins are owned by private persons, one of his violas ('the bastard viola') is preserved by the Conservatory in Brussels. Please, visit Cremonea auction portal for further information on the development of the violin and the works of violin makers. 

Author: Christopher Grimes

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