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Reconstructing very old instruments from paintings.


DrTodd
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Paintings provide a very valuable record of violin history.

At the 2004 VSA in Portland, Oregon, David Rivinus gave a lecture on a bowed string instrument which appeared in an old painting and which was more like a violin than viol. The surprise was that the painting dated to the end of the 15th century, earlier, by decades, than any of Andrea Amati's or any other violin maker's instruments.

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Well, I have the opinion that painters were not photographers, they put lot of "fantasia" on their paintings.

Take for instance Guido Reni's "Santa Cecilia" in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, dated 1606. Guido Reni belonged to a family of musicians, and probably he was himself a "suonatore", that is, a player. When he painted this Santa Cecilia, of course he was using his "fantasia", and not producing a reliable historical document of "how the violin was played in 1606"... .... but I may be wrong.

santaceciliadiguidoreni.jpg

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Well, I have the opinion that painters were not photographers, they put lot of "fantasia" on their paintings.

Take for instance Guido Reni's "Santa Cecilia" in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, dated 1606. Guido Reni belonged to a family of musicians, and probably he was himself a "suonatore", that is, a player. When he painted this Santa Cecilia, of course he was using his "fantasia", and not producing a reliable historical document of "how the violin was played in 1606"... .... but I may be wrong.

santaceciliadiguidoreni.jpg

How would you criticize this painting of a violin? To my relatively unsophisticated eyes it doesn't look too bad. And I believe that at some early time instruments were not played at the shoulder but rested on the leg or against the chest below the collar bone.

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Hi Gowan, "Instruments" broadens the field considerably. There isn't a body of evidence that violins were played on the leg as a rule, but of course viols were, and the later pardessus (a tiny viol created to play violin literature) was.

It is not uncommon for painters to use violins as props in paintings of very early times, and to make some effort, more or less, to make the instrument or its manner of playing appear archaic.

As to the accuracy of the painting itself, even this rather realistic effort shows signs of a lack of comprehension in the relationship of the fingerboard to the top of the violin. Even very realistic paintings can have perspective errors and cheats which an average viewer would not notice. These and other drawing errors become problematic when trying to draw morphological conclusions based on iconography.

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Hi Gowan, I am not criticizing the painting, as a matter of fact in my opinion it is one of the most realistic painted violin I know, I was referring to its playing position, painters are not interested in depicting reality in their canvases.

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Hi Gowan, I am not criticizing the painting, as a matter of fact in my opinion it is one of the most realistic painted violin I know, I was referring to its playing position, painters are not interested in depicting reality in their canvases.

I knew a very competent amateur cellist who was very proficient on the violin, too, but he held violins between his knees to play them, as if they were tiny cellos. Measured against that guy, this player in the painting isn't that far off the mark. Maybe the player in the painting is primarily a double bass player who sometimes picks up a violin while keeping his more familiar and comfortable way of playing his instrument.

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I am not criticizing the painting, as a matter of fact in my opinion it is one of the most realistic painted violin I know, I was referring to its playing position, painters are not interested in depicting reality in their canvases.

There is a large literature on the interpretation of paintings.

post-35343-0-70612900-1337124146_thumb.jpg

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Addie,

Your picture is a reminder that we may be assuming that those ancient players in those old paintings were playing virtuosic music when they really weren't. Maybe they played just a note or chord here and there or a steady drone to accompany the much more elaborate singing by human voice. If so, it really didn't matter how you held the instrument.

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I knew a very competent amateur cellist who was very proficient on the violin, too, but he held violins between his knees to play them, as if they were tiny cellos. Measured against that guy, this player in the painting isn't that far off the mark. Maybe the player in the painting is primarily a double bass player who sometimes picks up a violin while keeping his more familiar and comfortable way of playing his instrument.

In few north african countries violin is played like a small cello, the way your friend is doing, and also a little bit like a chinese single string instrument

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Reminded me of a story a friend once told me:

70's he was about 20 years of age, living in Brazil, his friend a woodworker really wanted a Hofner bass, so he took a picture of a Paul MacCartney picture in a magazine, projected it with a slide projectror to what he gathered was Paul's real life size, from that picture he drew his bass.

I happens that the picture was in an angle, headstock facing the viewer, at the end the bass his friend build had a uncommonly large headstock... :lol::D

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Addie,

Your picture is a reminder that we may be assuming that those ancient players in those old paintings were playing virtuosic music when they really weren't. Maybe they played just a note or chord here and there or a steady drone to accompany the much more elaborate singing by human voice. If so, it really didn't matter how you held the instrument.

Thanks. There have been discussions before on church violins with shoulder straps like in the David Allan painting (circa 1780). Of course, Allan is more famous for a traditional baroque fiddle (and cello) painting:

post-35343-0-62938900-1337200593_thumb.jpg

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This discussion reminded me of a website I came across years ago, posted by the Dutch violinmaker, Wim Raymaekers. Fortunately, it's still up: www.wimray.netau.net/recoengnwpage.html . His photos demonstrate the steps in recreating an "archaic" (his term) violin from an early-1600s painting. Note the violin is made without a form and without blocks, following the method of the Alemannic school. The resulting violin is now housed in a Belgian museum (along with the painting that inspired it??). The article also refers to an earlier effort to recreate a viol depicted in a painting by Rafael.

Richard

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Interestingly, although Andres writes (in post #5) that “As to the accuracy of the painting itself, even this rather realistic effort shows signs of a lack of comprehension in the relationship of the fingerboard to the top of the violin”

both the instrument in Manifos fine painting from 1606 (post #3)as well as the dutch one from Richf`s link (post #17)

http://wimray.netau.net/recoengnwpage.html

similarly don`t apear to have any wedge under the fingerboard at all. Although I can`t prove anything either, it seems to me that, should one not think of going above 3rd.position, (and therefore have no issue with what americans call “overstand”) and should the neck be tilted back slightly (as I have observed x times), a wedge would not be of neccecity. Perhaps one should have a little more humility re. iconographic “fingerboard/body relaitionships” back ca. 1600, untill such time as a genuine originaly preserved specimen becomes availiable too prove or disprove ones predjuces.

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