Friday, December 23, 2011

The Amati Family of Violin Makers. A Cremonese Dynasty

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

1560 was a long time ago, even by violin standards where an instrument is "modern" until it's about one hundred years old. In an earlier post on the Oldest Known Violin Makers, we introduced Andrea Amati, the first recorded violin maker in Cremona, Italy. Andrea leased his first shop in Cremona in 1538, and his skills and those of his descendants produced a dynasty of violin makers of the Amati name and trained the Guarneris, Bergonzis, Rugeris and a fairly skilled violin maker named Antonius Stradivarius.

circa 1560 Andrea Amati Viola

image from the National Music Museum

The life of Andrea Amati goes so far back in history that it is difficult to pin down the exact timeline of his career. It is commonly held that Andrea learned under Gaspare da Salo in Brescia before setting up shop in Cremona, with the bulk of his work occurring in the second half of the16th century. However, in the Daniel Draley sponsored translation of Cremonese historian Carlo Bonnetti's La Genealogia degli Amati Liutai e il Primato della Scuola Liutistica Cremonese, there emerges a different story of Andrea's life. Carlo Bonnetti made use of documents produced by the Cremonese government, such as leases, marriage agreements, and contracts, to show that Andrea was established in Cremona far earlier in the 16th century, and that he was in fact much older than Gasparo da Salo. In a document from 1556 listing those Cremonese residents of the appropriate age to bear arms (15 - 50), we find Andrea's elder son, Antonio, but not Andrea himself. This would mean that Andrea was at least 50 years old in 1556, and this fact, combined with the fact that Gaspare de Salo was born in 1542, means that Andrea was about 40 years older than Gasparo and highly unlikely to have learned under him.

Regardless of when exactly Andrea was born, by the 1560s he had learned the art of violin making and had established a workshop in Cremona. In their famous The Violin Makers of the Guarneri Family the Hills hypothesize that Andrea learned his craft in the nearby town of Brescia, perhaps from one of the craftsmen that the Catholic Church routinely trained in wood-carving. Irregardless of where he trained Andrea was well ahead of his time as a luthier, and his making was focused on an elegance and attention to detail that sought to limit the size of his instruments, few of which are full size by today's standards. Andrea's instruments eventually  caught the eye of a very wealthy and powerful amateur violinist, Charles IV of France.

Andrea Amati was appointed violin maker to the French court of Charles IV in Versailles, and would go on to create twenty-four violins, six violas and eight cellos for the court musicians. These instruments were made with exceptionally fine wood and decorated with the coat of arms of Charles IV.  Not a bad commission for a violin maker.

The "King" Cello, one of the earliest known cellos and one of the instruments Andrea made for Charles IV

image from the National Music Museum

Andrea Amati Viola, also made for Charles IV

Most historians agree that Andrea passed away around 1580, although some have argued that he lived into the 1600's. Andrea's sons, Antonio and  Hieronymus, would together carry on their father's craft. Violins made by the brothers often carry both of their names, and they betray the clear influence of their father and trainer Andrea. In The Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers William Henry writes that the brothers most likely succeeded their father as the makers to the French court, and it is clear that they successfully cemented the Amati name in the upper echelons of the violin world. Their success paved the way for Hieronymus' fifth son, Nicolo Amati, who would become the most famous Amati, running a highly successful shop and training the legend Antonius Stradivarius. Nicolo deserves his own blog post, so stay tuned for more information regarding the famous Amati family.

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violins!

1 comment:

  1. One of the most extraordinary (and quite possibly the very best) cellos ever made is the 1662 Nicolo Amati, played for many years by the legendary Leonard Rose, and now in the hands of the great Gary Hoffman.