Persoit, the illusion solution

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One of the most mysterious French bow makers, Persoit had a number of idiosyncrasies that give his works a uniquely light appearance. Through a detailed study of a single bow, Paolo Sarri shows his creative answer to the problem of bulky heads

The bow making of Jean Pierre Marie Persoit, alongside that of François Xavier Tourte, represents the pinnacle of an unsurpassed epoch in this domain. Each bow of these two great makers is a quite individual creation.

Paul Childs’s observation in his 1996 book Jean Pierre Marie Persoit: His Life and Work still resonates more than two decades later, and sums up my own feelings about Persoit and the uniqueness of his products. It is extraordinary that, despite his undoubted mastery of the craft, his work has been so neglected by the bow making world: the current version of his Wikipedia page even gives his name as ‘Persois’. The misspelling, which also occurs in my 1986 edition of René Vannes’s seminal Dictionnaire Universel des Luthiers, is likely a result of the stamp he used from the mid-1820s until the end of his career: ‘P R S’. This branding was obtained by filing away the letters ‘A’ and ‘I’ from a stamp bearing the word ‘PARIS’, which also accounts for the uneven spacing between letters. By focusing closely on a typical bow from c.1825, I hope to show that Persoit’s maverick genius went further than has previously been acknowledged, and that his mastery of the form encompassed skilled use of mystery and illusion.

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