Three 1734 Guarneris: Three of a kind

Figure 1 and lead image

Reseachers based at Cremona’s Museo del Violino recently had the chance to examine three priceless violins made by Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ in the same year – 1734. Giacomo Fiocco explains the technical methods used to analyse the trio, and what they revealed about the surface materials and design idiosyncrasies

Every musical instrument that came out of the great Cremonese luthiers’ workshops, such as those of Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari, has experienced a different journey. Each one may have passed through the hands of skilled and knowledgeable musicians and collectors – or lain forgotten in an attic for decades. Every violin bears, in some way, the marks of its history and fame that make it unique and inimitable, not only in terms of its acoustic and material features but also in its historical and symbolic ones.

Starting from the 20th century, the great interest in the topic has led makers and scientists to study the violins of the old Italians using a scientific approach, with the aims of characterising the chemical nature of the materials involved in Cremonese finishing treatments, and understand how they affect the instrument’s acoustic properties. Analytical investigations have enabled researchers to obtain a clear picture of the expected materials and their multilayered coatings, consisting of multiple superimposed films of varnishes, generally applied on wood that had been previously treated with a sealer to prevent varnish penetration. The most common materials identified and characterised so far in the coating systems of historical violins are siccative oils, metal-based driers, natural resins, animal glues, inorganic fillers, organic colourants, inorganic pigments, and lake pigments…

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