The hidden treasures of Pietro Guarneri of Mantua


Pietro Guarneri of Mantua was an undisputed master luthier, even though very few examples of his work remain. Andrea Zanrè examines three ‘violettas’ that until now have been overlooked

For 380 years, the northern Italian city of Mantua was ruled uninterruptedly by the House of Gonzaga. The family tree includes many illustrious names, but that of its tenth and final duke, Ferdinando Carlo, was hardly one of them. He is remembered, however, for having been the employer and mentor of one of the greatest violin makers in history: Pietro Guarneri, son of Andrea, also known as Pietro of Mantua.

Born in 1652, the duke was nearly an exact contemporary of the luthier, who was born in Cremona in 1655 and whose personality is often defined in contrast with that of his younger brother Giuseppe, called ‘filius Andreae’ to differentiate him from his own son Bartolomeo Giuseppe, universally known as ‘del Gesù’. The older Giuseppe spent his whole life in Cremona and never abandoned the workshop founded by his father, whom he faithfully assisted at the bench until his death in 1698; in the three successive wills Andrea left behind, he never forgot to mention this, nor the completely opposite attitude for which he could never forgive his first-born son Pietro…

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