Giovanni Paolo Maggini was born at Botticino near Brescia and was the best known violin maker of the Brescian school. In 1586-7 Maggini moved to Brescia and began his apprenticeship with Gasparo da Salò. He set up on his own in 1606, and over the next twenty-five years he made significant steps in the development of the violin and viola.
Maggini’s violins conform to two patterns, one of which we now consider to be standard size (35.5cm) and the other measuring around 37cm. Maggini seems to have favoured the larger model, probably because of the richness of tone that it produced, and this model was probably the inspiration for Stradivari’s ‘Long Pattern’ violins of the 1690s. His early violas, like those of da Salò, were about 44cm in length, but he reduced this to 41-42cm, establishing the standard for the contralto viola, probably around the same time that the Brothers Amati were making similar advances in Cremona. The cello c1610 is one of only two which is known to have survived, its broad model foreshadowing the great Venetian cellos of the 18th century.
Maggini’s labels are undated, making it difficult to chart his development, and this has contributed to confusion over a number of instruments that have traditionally been attributed to him. These are often very finely executed instruments, showing many of the characteristics of Maggini’s work, for example this undated violin is typical of this type. These instruments were considered to be his best work, and include many of the most celebrated Maggini instruments. Recently, however, with the advent of dendrochronology, this type of ‘Maggini’ has been shown to post-date the maker’s death, raising the possibility that they were made by an as-yet-unidentified follower of Maggini in the second half of the 17th century.
Like Girolamo Amati in Cremona, Maggini was a victim of the plague that struck northern Italy in 1630. He died in Brescia in 1630 or 1631, but the body of work he left behind guaranteed that city’s place in violin-making history.