There has been considerable speculation regarding the question of how Carlo Bergonzi learned the craft of violin making. The Hills suggested that he was a pupil of Giuseppe Guarneri filius Andreæ, whose influence can certainly be seen in his work. However, recent research suggests that his closest links may well have been with the Ruggieri family, which had always worked on the outskirts of Cremona, away from the Amati-dominated mainstream. Carlo’s mother was godmother to Vincenzo Ruggieri’s daughter, Teresa, and from 1712 Bergonzi and Ruggieri lived in the same parish, suggesting that they may well have been closely associated.
Bergonzi was probably working independently in the early 1720s, and this circa 1720 violin shares various features with the Ruggieris, notably the outline, the cut of the f-holes, the beech purfling, and the lack of a thicknessing pin hole in the centre of the back. Bergonzi’s instruments are considered the equal of all except those of Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, and his work is characterised by a superb choice of wood, a rich varnish to rival Stradivari, and a fineness of execution surpassed only by the Amatis. The ex-Paganini, ex-Vuillaume of circa 1720 and ex-Segelman violin of 1736 featured here show the characteristic Bergonzi scroll, rather individual in its form but beautifully finished in every way. The magnificent 1736 violin shows Bergonzi at the height of his powers — its mushroom-shaped upper bouts, slanting f-holes and stunning varnish are the hallmarks of this most rare and celebrated maker.
In 1746 the Bergonzi family moved into the Stradivari house, where they stayed until 1758, and Carlo appears to have worked on some of the instruments that were left unfinished at Stradivari’s death, some nine years earlier. Carlo’s son, Michele Angelo, was not his father’s equal either in craftsmanship or inspiration, but the Bergonzi tradition continued until around 1800 in the hands of Carlo’s grandson, Nicola.
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