Ben Hebbert

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    Violin dealer and researcher based in central London. Visit my website, or email to arrange a visit. My stock ranges from fine contemporary makers to outstanding classic Italian instruments.
  1. Baroque bass bars

    Before 1660 effectively the Northern Italian tradition relies on not a whole lot more than one family in Cremona and one in Brescia, and even Venetian traditions are markedly different - I know the Giovanni Maria of about 1580 is a lira, but its a good illustration of how different a relatively close-by tradition could be in the 16th century. Elsewhere things are different again... the line drawings here are approximations of all the sixteenth century complete depictions of violins found in reliably identifiable English iconography of the sixteenth century... You see similar things across Europe, and there is a relative absence of anything that we would call "Italian" in shape, unless you are to argue - as I believe may be possible, that these all derive from an early Venetian (or similar) form: There are 17th century pochettes by Gaspar Borbon in Brussels, Matias Wohrle in Augsberg, drawings from the Stradivari workshop also of them, and a claim in Poland that this is the 16th century Polish "invention of the violin" based on one engraving of a lost original by Marcin Groblicz (I) - Praetorius's Klein Diskant Geige in Syntagma Musicum - thus an instrument in the Brunwsick Court is also festooned like these. Here is one of the three surviving English specimens. This one has the silk moth armorial motif of the Bassano family of instrument makers who moved from Venice to London in 1538, a clear twin is decorated with the roses of Lancaster and York as clear Tudor iconography. The fingerboard and tailpiece are later. This is also Bassano work, converting a 14th century citole. What's beautiful is that they clearly use fittings that were made to go on a violin and for reasons of decoration and how they relate to English viols we can be confident of a late 16th century date - the gold work is accompanied by a goldsmith's mark dating the conversion to 1578 so they are incredibly important in terms of early violin setup, despite being such a totally weird specimen. Although we could dispute the length of the tailgut (I think it is far too long) I am not sure that this gives us a huge amount of space to radically rethink the bridge. So yet again we have surviving materials that contradict the iconographical record and better suggest a "regular" setup. I don't think there is any point in being too dogmatic either way on these - though any architect would tell you that you need to have a good reason not to load an arch on its apex.
  2. Baroque bass bars

    Violadamore, Indeed... I do have major issues with the compositional character of Gentileschi's St Cecilia. Its worth affirming the relationship between Gentileschi and Guido Reni who were essentially competitors - with both you see a revisiting of the tropes of around 1500 - St Sebastian, John the Baptist, etc. which are incredibly loyal to Leonardo / Raphael concepts but recasting them in a Caravaggiest mannerism. When viewed as competitors, together they yield a more coherent body of work that lends to this kind of idea- no more so than in their respective essays retelling Raphael's Ecstacy of St Cecilia, which was still in situ in Bologna until 1798, and was familiar through print culture from before 1600. In all three, we see a familiar representation in the sitter, and in Raphael's we see the rejection and corruption of earthly music in exchange for the heavenly music of the celestial choirs, which is why instruments are trampled on, falling apart and in essence unmusical. So I would argue that there is a very strong case, if provable, that Gentileschi is applying the same attitude in his retelling of Raphael's Ecstasy by purposefully producing an instrument that shows a rejection of earthly music. It is only the detail of Gentileschi's lute player that gives me some doubt before rejecting it out of hand... In context, here is the Leonardoesque Bernardino Luini (2x) St Sebastian, and Reni's adoption of the same subject. (We can play the same game with Raphael's Madonna & Child, John the Baptist or a whole variety. Here I think that Reni's St Cecilia (centre) shows the same abandonment of music as Raphael, though the violin is quite normal. Reni's being a girl transfixed by the celestial choirs, - I've added a Domenichino preparatory sketch of the same period to further show the influence of Raphael. I simply refuse to believe that the Gentileschi and Reni aren't informed by one and other as I think is very clear. Though when we look at Gentilischi's composition, I think he wanted to leave enough indicators to relate to Raphael's Ecstasy as it's prototype, but he has radicalised the meaning of it - portraying Cecilia as a woman in a powerful position, which is what we seen repeatedly in his returning to Judith and Holofernes - a particular apt one for comparison below. Not to mention how he brought up his daughter Artemisa to become one of the most celebrated painter of the time, and her extraordinary relationship with similar subjects. This is all a very long winded explanation of why we can't take Cecilia's violin as implicitly trustworthy iconography any more than assuming that pipe organs are better played upside down with the pipes slightly detached from them. - though by historical performance practice, violas like the one depicted in Raphael's ecstasy tend to sound better that way!
  3. Baroque bass bars

    (oops, wrong thread?)
  4. Baroque bass bars

    What I'm getting at is as per the Gentilischi painting of St Cecilia - that instrument OBVIOUSLY existed and is painted twice to a level of detail that makes it's characteristics obvious, but I've never seen an Italian viola from before the 1630s (or from any time) that even remotely has the characteristics that this one does, making me wonder if independently from bridge markings, these just don't survive because they are too odd... If one did, we might expect to find these sorts of bridge markings on them. Presuming the painting was done in Rome, we have no violins to show from the Roman School before 1660, so that perhaps is what this is. This is the reason why I would applaud an experimenter who tries to make a Genitilischi violin warts and all, but think it is deeply troublesome to try to apply these characteristics to existing Amatis and da Salos... At exactly the same time as Gentilischi, Pietro Paolini's painting is astonishing in it's likeness to the Ashmolean's Gaspar da Salo, including the "kick" in the lower halves of the f-holes which is so characteristic of the maker. The bridge is conventional in size and placement, as is this violin from Judith Leyster, also of the 1630s..
  5. Baroque bass bars

    That would be an interesting research project. I would seek to separate the "look" of an instrument with its function, the fact that it has a long fingerboard like an Amati from the same time may be an aesthetic value rather than a function value. If regional makers and musicians felt that despite the Amati way of doing things, longer strings, a bridge close to the tailpiece, and only playing in first position was about all that was needed for the violin, then so be it. There is a beautiful quote of Anthony a Wood in the mid-Seventeenth century, who berated an Oxford violin teacher, who was a fraud because he taught his pupils to play with the strings tuned in fourths like a viol because that was the only instrument he really knew. Despite what may have been a widespread local practice, we would not imagine that the instruments would be made differently to orthodox standards.
  6. Baroque bass bars

    Baschineis, Caravaggio Gentilischi and others are interesting indeed, and Baschienis's work though variable in quality and observation does produce some remarkable depictions. One of the problems that I have with these - especially the Caravaggio paintings is that they are of sufficient detail that they are quite clearly studied depictions of real instruments, and thus to be trusted on elements such as setup, but we should also trust them in which case on what they tell us of the instrument itself. Caravaggio's instruments are not Cremonese, nor Brescian, and may very well be representative of a Neapolitan tradition of his time for which instruments simply do not survive. By the same token, there is a Linarol violin in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna which has an original setup which is very particular to Venice of the late sixteenth century, and it is so different from Cremonese violins that it would be absurd to assert the characteristics of its setup onto a Cremonese violin. Trapped in the practicalities of our time, whether as a new maker producing a baroque instrument, or someone considering an antique instrument, it is to one degree or another nevertheless a copy of a Cremonese standard, which, even if it is a Stainer model has many of the fundamental measurements in common. As long as we are thinking of a baroque instrument in these terms, it makes sense to take our exemplars from Cremonese instruments and from sources such as Dutch instruments of the late 1600s which seem to survive in relative number in original condition. We should not try to apply a Caravaggiesque setup to them because that would be nonsense. I would dearly love to see someone reconcile Caravaggio's paintings into a coherent form, and apply the principles observed in that to it to see what results from it. That would be an interesting experiment that could help to inform our concepts of the violin at that time. Extrapolating those concepts onto an Amati is a waste of time. Here are two paintings of Orazio Gentilischi which seem to be studies of the same - or at least a coherently similar instrument: The Ceccho del Caravaggio (c.1620) likewise seems to detail an Italian tradition of making unknown to us with coherent detail: The Peter Claesz Still Life with instruments shows the same violin in the background on one, as the foreground of the other... and the detail is incredibly good... it feels eminently copyable to me if someone wants to speculate on these aesthetics - but none of these represent what should be put on a 354mm violin of an Amati-type shape.
  7. Baroque bass bars

    Mark, a pleasure - I really want to keep this a work in progress, and invite contributions. The kind of bar you are speaking about is what we see in the 1690s Colichon, in pieces, at the Musee de la Musique. I was very surprised to discover a 1670s Meares with the same angle, despite the orthodoxy of Kessler's the one in the V&A, MFA, and others, but I have also seen this angle in violins by Urquhart and Wise from the 1660s. Whilst Meares and Norman probably calculate the width of the central stave by the position of the bass bar / bridge foot, I am increasingly aware that very significant numbers of English viols were made with two piece carved fronts. My experience of baroque players is they can often tell you what they believe. This is not always the same as the high level of knowledge that you have. Sometimes, it really isn't the same - as in the case of a musician of recent memory who berated that a violin cannot be a baroque violin unless it has a nail in the neck. (She didn't even suggest where).
  8. Baroque solid ebony fingerboard?

    Bruce do you have a view on whether the c.1620 Amati fingerboard is Amati work or later? (I know I should have the book and the answer should be simple). If it is original, it would be the earliest positively dateable Ebony veneer fingerboard I am aware of, and early enough to challenge many preconceptions, notwithstanding that inlayed maple fingerboards exist concurrently into the early 1700s
  9. Baroque bass bars

    Jacob its absolutely parallel to the centre line, as are most English viols of the 17th century. However, some while ago I had an Urquhart violin with traces of the original position which was slanted (esssentially parallel to the edge) and I have seen both techniques in different 1670s viols by Richard Meares, so I am reluctant to draw conclusions one thing worth saying is that a slanted bar will, I think, inevitably be shorter.
  10. Baroque bass bars

    Difficult! Remembering that some things long after 1800 can be relatively "primitive" - if it's interesting enough for Maestronet, it's good enough for me rather aporopriately for Tobjorn's comment, I have a Perry of 1821 which is certainly pertinent to the 1790s in terms of what we think.. For the sake of baroque musicians, if they can understand that an 1820s violin in original condition may well be identical to the setup of 50 years before, it could actually be helpful in reconceptualisijg what's appropriate - people didn't change their violins radically the moment that Paganini published his caprices... that would be like saying that because electric cars exist in 2017 no one is making diesel powered cars - rather silly.
  11. Baroque bass bars

    Excellent question! Thank you! I've been simplistic and talked about length. Aside from a lot of circumstantial evidence for it being original - for example, of you have an original neck, there is a fair chance the bass bar has t been tampered with either... bit more interestingly take a look at the long taper of the bar. Here, from the blog is a photo of a bass bar salvaged from a badly damaged Parker (it had to go) which is London of about 30 years later and the two corroborate each other nicely! (It's the same length too)... So, in terms of bass bar design, there is a whole other narrative aside from the superficial idea that "baroque bass bars were shorter".
  12. Baroque solid ebony fingerboard?

    The writing on this one is identical to the writing identifying the fingerboard as "A.Stradivari 1721" ... I'd like to get back to the Musee de Lam Musique with the tools to properly draw it, I'm afraid I realised the significance of this after I photographed it and came home. It's as original as the fingerboard! The Fittings Albert Vooper talks about are presumably what's in there now
  13. Baroque solid ebony fingerboard?

    Read the OP There isn't any difference in choice between different instruments, there are more viola d'amore fingerboards and viol fingerboards that survive because they were less likely to be modernised, but the same rules apply across the board, so it's totally relevant to the OPand to what they asked to talk about these. real historic viola d'amores that I have handled are always surprisingly light. 20th century Ines are built like a battleship. Anyway the person talking about lightness was talking about violins.
  14. Baroque bass bars

    If it's fixed don't baroque it?? This thread has degenerated already woooooopydoo, thanks Rue!
  15. Baroque bass bars

    Hello Maestronutters, Inspired by a violin that came into the shop this week from 1685 with an original bass bar that is just as long as a modern one, I've finally decided to start my much awaited and provocatively entitled "HIP-Replacement" series of blogs on aspects of the baroque violin that are worth reviewing since Boyden put various assumptions into the ether back in 1969. Its a work in progress, as I realised that if I tried to systematically collect evidence, it would be years before I had anything to publish, so in the meantime, i thought we could start a discussion here on the basis that I can borrow any photographs you care to post to prove or disprove my points as the blog develops... in return we can have a rumbunctious airing of views and serious diversions (as in seriously diverted) here - Fair?