Jacob Stainer was the leading violin maker of the Austro-German school. For many years Stainer was thought to have been a pupil of Nicolò Amati, due to the strong similarity in their work. This theory was subsequently questioned, on the basis that Stainer was never listed as an apprentice in the Amati household, but recent research has shown that the parish lists were not introduced until 1641, by which time Stainer would have left the shop.
Stainer’s earliest work dates from the late 1630s, and he seems to have travelled a great deal over the next two decades before finally settling in the town of his birth in 1656. His early work is relatively highly arched (see the violin circa 1660) but from about 1665 he built a flatter, more successful model that seems to have been inspired by Amati’s Grand Pattern. The two violins dated 1668 and circa 1670 are representative of this model, and show Stainer at his best.
Stainer was undoubtedly one of the great craftsmen of the 17th century, and for well over a century his instruments ranked alongside, if not above, the best Cremona had to offer. His great legacy is the influence he had over subsequent makers, notably in Venice and Florence, but also in England, Germany and of course Austria. Stainer’s model was considered ideal and was industriously copied until the latter years of the 18th century, when the vogue for Stradivari finally took over. Sadly many of these copyists exaggerated the Stainer-esque features, such that the copies are not a fair reflection of the delicacy and elegance of the original.