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An ‘extraordinary’ example of Giovanni Battista Guadagnini’s early work

20 Oct 2017 - John Dilworth

Lot 113 in our October auction is the Ex-Cubberly Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin made in Piacenza in 1742. In the second of three articles examining featured instruments in our auction, the luthier, restorer and expert John Dilworth outlines his observations about this fine violin.

This extraordinary early work by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini dated 1742 comes naturally from his native city of Piacenza, where he worked until 1749. Many of the elements of his style are already fixed, the prominent corners, low but well-rounded arch and the scroll, with the short last turn to the eye but deeply worked and slender throat. What is missing still is the later idiosyncrasies. The lower circles of the sound holes are just that – neat, round circles, not the oval shape he adopted later, and the tell-tale prick marks that usually appear around the eye of the scroll are absent.

Tiny quirks like these define a maker’s style, but even without them, this violin shows Guadagnini’s hand and eye clearly. The thick red varnish is remarkable and distinctive, and so is the dramatic choice of wood for the back, two matched pieces of native Italian maple which shifts in appearance from perfectly plain at the neck, through quickly developing light, narrow flame across the middle bouts into a riot of tight interlocking and intensely deep figure at the lower bout.