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Recognising the Masters - points to consider


Janito
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Many would consider it madness to be asking for help with the identification of typical features of the great Masters violins (or violas or cellos)...but I am still going to ask.

This has been irritating me for a long time. The pimple burst whilst reading the Varnish Coloration thread in which there is a sub-plot relating to a 'Bergonzi' copy.

Frankly, I would not be able to distinguish a Bergonzi from a Barbie; that's why I need your help.

I would be very interested to learn what MNers consider to be notable features of a particular maker (elaborating period changes would be even more instructive).

I am not looking for a perfect primer on violin identification, but some guidance on 'pattern recognition'. I can then go to my books and the internet and see whether I can pick out the features.

I will then be in a better position to take a model towards one or other precedent.

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There are no shortcut ways to learn identification. Constant practice is the only thing that will get you somewhere.

Stradivari is a good study example for a start, because he was fairly consistent through the years and there are lots of litterature about him, as well as existing instruments. Also, he is about the best there ever was.

Read Hill's book on A. Stradivari for a basic understanding of his evolution as a maker. Follow up by studying his instruments, preferably IRL.

The commonly most consistent features in descending order of importance IMO:

1. Outline (model) scroll, f-holes, arching, methods of construction

2. Varnish and wood treatment (ground)

3. Details (execution), purfling, toolmarks etc.

4. Choice of wood

A general guideline this is. I.e. it applies to a lot of makers.

Hope that helps.

Edit: I changed the list order and some details.

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Thanks.

Let me push a little harder. I am aware of these general principles and I have read most of the available books on violin making and makers.

What I am looking for are more specifics, for example:

Guadagnini's F holes have an asymmetric bottom hole and the nicks are often lower than the centre.

Perhaps there are other similar 'unique' features of each maker that act as a guide.

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Some other details for Guad

1) Scroll often has squarish pin pricks on the volute, and the center line is higher than the side chamfers

2) Purfling often is, or appears to be walnut, and the black is poorly stained

The problem you'll find is that it's not so hard to recognize models and compile lists of details, but copyists can do those. It really isn't possible to develop expertise without seeing the instruments in hand, especially for a sense of varnish and true age.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Torbjörn Zethelius

There are no shortcut ways to learn identification. Constant practice is the only thing that will get you somewhere.

Lowes Hardware just made a "late morning" Saturday delievery at 8:30 AM, so I am not in a good mood. And after spending over $4800 to them.

So I will say, if it is so hard to tell them apart, why are they so expensive? (Violins) Yes, I realize that they are collctor items and bought by wise investors for resale. But why would a musician buy one? Oh, I forgot, makers do not usually play with any ability.

Others out there are dealers in "fine" violins. (They are always "fine" .........) And these folks will tell me that THEY can tell, and I suppose they can, they are Experts... That still doe not say why it makes any difference.

Along a different line, someone the other day was expressing concern about the future wood supply. To me it seems obvious that there are a lot of makers today. All the violins needed for years to come will be made in these couple of generations. And if anyone wants his son going into violinmaking, he should be hung, cut down, shot in the legs, and hung again, this time permanently.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Johnmasters

(...) So I will say, if it is so hard to tell them apart, why are they so expensive? (Violins) Yes, I realize that they are collctor items and bought by wise investors for resale. But why would a musician buy one? Oh, I forgot, makers do not usually play with any ability. (...)


Well, it is NOT really difficult at all to tell the really expensive violins apart. That is a misconception, they are actually the easiest ones. It takes just a little practice to tell an Amati from a Strad or a Guarneri. My wife can do that, just from following me around to look at instruments over the last 10 years. It is slightly more difficult, but not really hard, to tell most of the fakes from the real ones. These are expensive instruments because they are very characteristic and personal, in addition to other things that make them stand out. You can't find instruments that are easier to tell apart, and that explains why they are so thrilling.

BUT, this is not "expertise" of course, for a deeper understanding of the cremonese you need a wast experience, not to talk of virtually all the other makers: you really need lots and lots of time and experience, exposure to thousands of instruments etc, before you can call yourself "an expert". Most if these instruments are less important and prolific than the Strads, but they may still be fine and antique violins.

I might agree that some violins are considered "fine" and "rare" today that 20 years ago had almost no value at all, but that's the way it works, I think there is nothing unhealthy in the violin market really. As for the number of violins in the world today being sufficient, I do agree, if we are speaking of numbers only. But I don't think we have enough really really good violins, the prices you mention yourself seem to contradict that, and indicate they are rather few and far between! So I would rather say; making bad, mediocre or even just good instruments is useless. But there will always be a demand for the excellent ones, don't you think?

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Mr Weinstein wrote: "The problem you'll find is that it's not so hard to recognize models and compile lists of details, but copyists can do those. It really isn't possible to develop expertise without seeing the instruments in hand, especially for a sense of varnish and true age. "

Thanks. Your points about Guad are exactly what I am looking for.

To reiterate, I am not planning to become an 'expert' connoisseur after this, nor a 'expert' copyist, but I am looking for the sort of details to incorporate in my own instruments, that would be typical of X, Y or Z.

Lets not make this a philosophical debate on 'expertise' and its acquisition.

I am a simple fellow, so please keep it simple and grounded in facts.

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Seems to me asking for "the sort of details to incorporate in my own instruments" is very different than asking how one goes about "recognizing the Masters".

The first is like asking the forum members do they have favorite idiosyncrasies found in a school or a maker (details which usually aren't conclusive in making an attribution).

There have been several threads in the past about identification (not copying) and about expertise (some very heated threads) and some interesting tutorials (on f-holes and scrolls, come to mind). I'm sure if you do a search on relevant words, limited to the pegpox you'll hit some that might be useful.

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Janito,

I too would like the kind of "eye" that you're seeking. It would seem to me that this could be the subject of an entire book. (In fact, I'm certain it is, somewhere.)

I think even a Cliff's Notes version would occupy a great deal of someone's time, and would still be inadequate. So I doubt we'll see it posted here...though I will continue to check back just in case.

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Most experts see the back first and they usually recognise what the instrument they are holding is. Am I right?

Just to go along with Janito, and to have some fun;

Some of C Bergonzi's traits are;

1) Upper bout outline very square, lower bout elegant (don't know how else to describe what I call a 'nice bottom'.)

2) Scroll with eyes sticking out and deep undercut.

3) Purfling joints (not mitres at corners) not at the centre.

4) Long body stop.

I'm sure that not all of his instruments display all those details I've described above. An early example I've seen had a nice bottom, but a rounded upper bout, and the scroll was rather normal looking.

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As the originator of this post, I am going to indulge myself for a minute.

If MN is going to serve as a repository of information and knowledge, posters need to be aware of the importance of inserting appropriate 'meta data' in questions and replies. Think of these as 'keywords' that anyone would use if they wanted to find the info later.

This is critical because no 2 people perform searches in exactly the same way. Subtle variations of the terms used can yield diverse results.

IMO, when performing a search it can be more important to eliminate the irrelevant than actually finding the germane. If the needle is buried in a stinky haystack, it will be difficult to find. As an example, I searched for 'scroll' as suggested by Falstaff - I gave up after 8 pages of items that did not yield what I am looking for. Hearts are programmed to deliver a finite number of beats, so I would rather use my time more productively.

So..., even if it appears repetitious, do please contribute your insights on 'features' of the Masters.

ps - It would be nice to see that this topic can elicit more factual replies that the one on gluepots!!!

----------------------------------------

Edit

Oh...and with the VSA in session, here is a chance for the "Rest of the World" to take the lead...

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"scroll" is going to be way too general.

Try, "scroll tutorial" and limit it to titles, you'll get ONE hit.

Same with "f-hole tutorial."

Try "Violin identification" -- again, only in the title. Or "Appraisal" or "authentication"

Meta tags would be nice -- and people might even use them if this software, like WordPress, made it simple to apply and modify such tags.

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I would like to say something here,

conscious of how differently people contributing might approach the topic.

Janito's stated goal is, to

"look for the sort of details to incorporate in his own instruments".

I am not a maker,

in fact not capable of anything but the simplest adustment to an instrument.

My interest is as a player and enthusiast in general for string instruments

Still we could all possibly agree that what attracts us the the world of the violin

is the aesthetic appeal of its sound and appearance?

(Unless someone believes they are also going to make big bucks?)

I derive pleasure from recognising familiar recurring aesthetic qualities

that have come to form the legacy of classical violin design

and the infinite deviations or variations on those themes,

but I find it difficult to describe precicely what determines that beauty

even though I know dimensions are computable.

Saint Augustine wrote, "What, then, is time?

If no one asks me, I know what it is.

If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know."

In about 40 years I have probably seen a couple hundred max? (not many really)

classic instruments at close quarters,

many only a brief glance without fully appreciating what I was looking at,

and of course, probably more than that number again only through books and photos.

I think I can pick certain general characteristics of form and style but that's about all,

and I wouldn't anticipate my level of knowledge will go much beyond that.

But for me that's fine.

So return to Janito's request,

I don't feel I could offer much by way of concrete detail,

but will follow the thread with interest.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Omobono

reminds me again of the great loss Michael D. is to this forum.


Don't you mean "the great loss Michael D.'s absence is to this forum"?

I mean, Michael isn't a loss to the forum, his absence causes a loss.

I know. Pedantic. I can't help it.

As for the missing pictures.... if folks are still around who contributed to those various threads, some of which were created before the forum software supported attaching images -- you CAN edit your posts, even if they are from the way back software.

It would be a great thing if people would revisit their posts and see that their contributions have active images.

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Falstaff wrote: "I mean, Michael isn't a loss to the forum, his absence causes a loss. I know. Pedantic. I can't help it. "

Reminds me of the Great Panda that "Eats shoots and leaves" not "Eats, shoots and leaves"...(The title of a nice book by Lynne Truss).

Anyway, what I was going to say is that I have noticed that Mr Darnton has logged-on to MN on several occasions recently - it's the postings that are are missing.

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Michael's exit is indeed a great loss to the forum. However, we still have Mr. Holmes, and I don't know if many here understand the significance of Andrew Weinstein's participation.

He did a very knowledgeable post earlier in this thread, as well as many others.

He's kind of a quiet guy, so his opinions may not be self-announced with fanfare, fireworks and profuse verbiage.

His contributions are spot-on, and his name is well-known in the professional violin making community.

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quote:


Originally posted by: David Burgess

Michael's exit is indeed a great loss to the forum. However, we still have Mr. Holmes, and I don't know if many here understand the significance of Andrew Weinstein's participation.q]

Well spoken, David, and thanks, Guy for the correction - I's gets careless!

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I have been ploughing through the discussions compiled by Falstaff.

It is a great shame that many of pictures are no longer available. I would endorse Falstaff's request that MNers look in their MHz (GiBy) cupboards and pick out pics that, even if not identical to the referenced items, would still serve to make the texts intelligible.

I recently printed out an old Bridge thread that was very rich in pictures - it would be good to create something similar for other instructional threads.

--------------------------------------

Incidentally, this ploughing has taught me that my ignorance is bottomless...

Now that I know a little better, it is no longer bliss.

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Thanks David for the kind words. I'll say that you are one of those who put the Maestro into maestronet, and your posts are always both informative and amusing, which is a challenge.

Back to the thread, a good point has been made in that we look at violins differently for different purposes. As someone who constantly looks with a buying eye, I tend to look for problems such as authenticity and missing parts. Often times , and maybe more so at auction you find examples that show other hands, and aren't exactly quintessential examples that are instantly recognizable. There are also numerous cases where opinions have changed with time, such as some violins sold as Ruggieris that were actually Grancinos, and all those Bergonzi cellos that are now Venetian. So while it's great to have the opportunity to admire great examples, such as the Del Gesu exhibit years ago, I find it an oversimplification to state that identifying the old masters is easy.

That said, Janito's point is well taken, he is seeking info that he can use to inform his work. We are fortunate these days to have such great books available as tools, especially for Strad and del Gesu, which offer a great deal of useful info. And since most of us go a long time between seeing those instruments, it's even more important to have them. It would be hard to compile a list of details for each maker, though Strad magazine articles often have interior shots which are useful.

Lastly, there was a great story which opened the book "Blink", about a museum that purchased some ancient Greek statues. They passed all kinds of scientific tests, right marble and age, and yet the best experts were immediately uncomfortable with them for reasons they had trouble explaining. Eventually they were proven to be clever forgeries. Why I find this story relevant is that details are important, but when you have first hand experience with something you gain a fuller understanding that can't always be quantified.

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Following along the lines of the posts from Messrs Weinstein and Kimura, let me give another example of the type of information I am seeking:

Sometime ago I read that the fluting of Strad scrolls is asymmetrical - steep near the centre line, shallower towards the edges.

As you can see, one sentence can be enough to convey an observation or impression; easy to discuss and confirm or refute.

Please note, that these observations or 'points to consider' do not have to be absolutely definitive and set in stone because they will not be used to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse...

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