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joerobson
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So what would you say is the part of the original varnish/varnishing method/ground in the today's appearance and attractiveness of these cremonese violins that have been "heavily" handled (whether it is a possible french polishing, or manual polishing etc..)?

Almost anything applied, from Lemon Pledge to ArmorAll to Hill polish to French polish, will at least temporarily reduce porosity in the varnish, and smooth the surface a little bit. All other things being equal, that translates into greater transparency.

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Almost anything applied, from Lemon Pledge to ArmorAll to Hill polish to French polish, will at least temporarily reduce porosity in the varnish, and smooth the surface a little bit. All other things being equal, that translates into greater transparency.

The danger in polishing violins -- whether by Pledge, olive oil, ... all the way up to French polishing -- is that it can be addictive, like teeth whitening or artificial sun tanning. Once you've done it, or had it done, and like the results, you want to repeat it to maintain the same look.

Even if polishing a violin just once doesn't do any great harm, the repeated applications needed to maintain that glossy look might accumulatively do harm.

The addictive nature of wanting something glossy to stay glossy will lead to repeated applications. Even with some process as apparently successful in producing a long term gloss like French polishing, that gloss will noticeably diminish in a year or so, and the gloss lover will go for another French polishing almost compulsively.

Dealers, in the past, may not have fought against that compulsion in their customers. Why would they if they produced the original gloss? But maybe that abetting of gloss worship is changing.

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My working assumption is that if a 200+ year old violin has a noticeable and durable shine to it (and that seems to describe most of those old Italians in service) it's been French polished, probably repeatedly over the years, and the most common material which gets applied in French polishing, if any material is applied, is shellac.

That is about right

Roger, in your opinion was subsequent french polishing partly or mainly responsible for the specific chatoyancy and visual depth associated with Cremonese instruments? Is it correct to say that the top of the Messie, as indicated in photographs, is not as translucent as other Strads for this same reason--because it lacks lac? Thank you for your insight.

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This is something which is apparently taboo, and I wonder if it was what Michael Darnton was getting to in threads like 'back to shellac', etc. Viz., that the famous Cremonese hologram depth and chatoyancy was created by French restorers using the effluvium of the lac beetle, if not outright 'shellac'. Is this not the reason for the relatively more 'opaque' finish on the Messie and the more 'translucent' finish on the Blunt (no lac treatement vs. some lac treatment). Please discuss.

Attributing all the beauty of these varnishes to numerous French polish treatments is a little reductive. Candied apples?

I think that in French polishing you lose certain characteristics in the surface texture that I like to see. It can be satiny, silky, leathery, crazed, clumped, veiled etc.

Just handling an instrument for years can change the appearance of the varnish too but to call the 'Messie' opaque is a big exaggeration. Instruments that have been handled show wear but if they have been cared for and not excessively or compulsively cleaned and polished they take on a character of their own that I find quite charming and is, I think, one of the reasons we find older used objects so appealing and familiar. If, however, one violin in Oxford doesn't have to be put through this transformation then I'm all for it.

Sometimes excessive French polishing has been used to gain surface uniformity after varnish retouch of a crack or other repairs.

You could think of it like taking a hot iron and smoothing out all the brush marks on a Van Gogh or putting the Mona Lisa under glass. I fully well understand WHY it is under glass but at the same time it removes a lot.

There is a 1714 Stradivari that comes through the shop every now and then that has something of both - polished and unpolished. The unpolished areas to me have an indescribable beauty that no glassy surface could ever have.

EDIT: Wasn't Michael Darnton referring to what he used as a "ground"?

Bruce

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From the little I understand there seems to be a clear first coat followed by a golden/green//gray/brown coat and another clear coat before the darker colors?

Has any small traces of bronze or similar been found on the golden/green/gray/brown coat?

edit - perhaps a golden treated Verde Gris that with time dissolved into varnish?

edit 2 - ops. maybe not that simple to detect.

Edited by carlobartolini
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From the little I understand there seems to be a clear first coat followed by a golden/green//gray/brown coat and another clear coat before the darker colors?

Has any small traces of bronze or similar been found on the golden/green/gray/brown coat?

According to Brandmair: a protein sealer, followed by staining the wood (the "golden" layer) followed by a clear coat followed by colour coats.

Actually pretty close to the modern Old Wood/Magister varnishing systems.

From what I have seen, later Cremonese like Storioni and Ceruti used a golden undercoat over unstained wood to give the "ground" colour.

With regard to the latter point, I'm happy for people who know better than me to tell me I'm talking bolleaux. This is quite a good way to learn, I find.

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Recently I've been reading about how colors were made in the past. A common procedure was to remove color from 'clothlets', pieces of dyed cloth that were remnant after making clothing. When the color was removed, sometimes using a strong base, the cloth shed proteins.

I wonder if this is what they are picking up in the analysis?

I have yet to see a protein based ground that looks like a good Cremonese ground.

Oded

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I have yet to see a protein based ground that looks like a good Cremonese ground.

Oded

Oded,

I agree. I would allow that there may be a method or a protein base I have not seen or heard of, but up to this point I have not seen a surface treated with a "protein ground" that has the optical properties of the old ground.

Joe

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I think it's perhaps a bit misleading to refer to a "protein ground" since the protein (presumably gelatin) layer is, more often than not, only one component of the ground. In the few experiments I've done I've found that the use of a weak gelatin sealer gives a slightly blander result due to the ground colour "biting" less into the wood, but the difference with/without is not huge (to my eyes, anyway). I guess it depends on what the rest of the grounding process is.

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i dont think you could make a very convincing arguement that the strad clear ground coat with its much higher wearability could be shellac either, but rather a varnish specifically formulated for increased wearability and adhesion to the wood, my theory is that a fossilized amber varnish might be one possibility for the undercoat

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Perhaps it's something in the lighting? Or maybe others won't see the same thing?

For me, the tops of the siblings seem to present a stronger contrast than the backs?

Any insights into this divergence of impression? And why do the backs seem more harmoniously similar by comparison?

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Perhaps it's something in the lighting? Or maybe others won't see the same thing?

For me, the tops of the siblings seem to present a stronger contrast than the backs?

Any insights into this divergence of impression? And why do the backs seem more harmoniously similar by comparison?

If, as some have proposed, the degree of cleaning and polishing (by whatever means and substances) accounts for some of the difference between the colors of the two instruments, then the relative differences in the two plates of the Blunt might be accounted for the same way. The top plate of any fiddle gets more dirt, sweat, rosin than does the back plate, and might get cleaned and polished more often and heavily than the back. The result would be that the Blunt's top would show more of an effect from polishing than the back would, simply because the top received more polishing. The Blunt back, receiving relatively less polishing, would thus look more like the back of the unpolished Messiah.

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the thing you have to explain is why an identical clear ground coat would wear ten times better than the coloured coat...... i think the disparity in wear characteristics points to two different formulas, one for the clear ground coat and one for the coloured varnish

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the thing you have to explain is why an identical clear ground coat would wear ten times better than the coloured coat...... i think the disparity in wear characteristics points to two different formulas, one for the clear ground coat and one for the coloured varnish

lyndon,

What we know: the varnish which has first contact with the wood is pine resin in a relatively unrefined form + linseed oil ...the terpenes present may have been added but may have come from the unrefined nature of the resin. The formula is 4 resin to 1 oil.

Inquiring minds debate what may or may not be under this varnish. Though there are those who disagree with me, the character of the upper, "colored", varnish does not match the character of the under-varnish. I see this as a longer oil varnish.

David,

Beyond the variations of photography, I am lead to believe le Messie has a copper [with a touch of pink] rather than a brown cast to the varnish. If the color in the Stradivari varnish book is accurate, then so is your observation. Not a surprise though...there are so many Stradivari varnishes....

on we go,

Joe

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Also there is not much scientific evidence for amber, but who knows.

True, and specific mention of this continues. (Echard et al.: “The Nature of the Extraordinary Finish of Stradivari’s Instruments”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2009, 48, 1–6).

However it seems that amber can be easily masked. As Raymond White has pointed out, “Amber has a very low amount of characteristic diterpenoids, the major component of which is Δ 8-isopimaric acid. In favourable cases this might still just show up. However, if amber were incorporated with just one tenth of its weight of rosin, the latter’s diterpenoids would swamp those of the amber.” (Raymond White: “Eighteenth Century Instruments Examined”, The Strad, August 1984, pp.258-259.)

Furthermore it seems that resins such copal (and presumably amber) that have been "run" at high temperatures before being combined with a drying oil become difficult to detect within resultant varnishes. Various researchers studying the work of Pre Raphaelite artists have noted the difficulty in detecting copal markers.

See: http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/cci-icc/about-apropos/nb/nb29/share-partage-eng.aspx

(The Progress Report 1999 in http://www-old.amolf.nl/research/biomacromolecular_mass_spectrometry/molart/Resinpol.html is also interesting but this webpage doesn't seem to loading at the moment. I may have a copy of this if anyone is interested.)

Succinic acid has been mentioned as a marker for amber resin. It has also been mentioned as an indication of the presence of amber within a varnish film. (Geary Baese: “Classic Italian Violin Varnish”, VSA Journal, Vol.8 No.3, 49-73). However, given the relatively low boiling point of succinic acid (235°C.), running amber in an open pot in the course of making an amber varnish would likely eliminate any presence.

It seems that the presence of methyl Δ8-isopimarate (as has been found in a painting by Ferdinand Bol) may be the only reliable indicator of amber, and as White has pointed out, this is easily masked.

It would be interesting to see a full list of the markers that Echard and his co researchers did identify in the lower and upper layers.

It would also be interesting to see an analysis (e.g. Py-Gc-MS) of a modern amber varnish film. (I have not been able to find one.) This would provide some indication of what markers disappear in the course of running the resin as opposed to spectra resulting from analyses of amber objects. While an aged amber varnish film will be different again, an analysis of a modern amber varnish would be a start.

Amber does have some interesting properties and, as most here will know, is mentioned quite often in varnish recipes in old manuscripts.

Apologies for posting this here but I find the non identification of amber curious.

I hope that this won't detract from the general discussion.

John

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lyndon,

What we know: the varnish which has first contact with the wood is pine resin in a relatively unrefined form + linseed oil ...the terpenes present may have been added but may have come from the unrefined nature of the resin. The formula is 4 resin to 1 oil.

[/b]

a rather bold statement, yet another person whos privy to the secret formula

thanks john harte for your input, from what you say its easy to see how an amber presence could be confused with pine resin, for instance

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Reading here and there on the web it would seem that amber varnish have been used on German violins during the 18th century. It is not said how this was discovered (by analysis or simply because the makers left notes). maybe Jacob Saunders has some information.

I agree that succinic acid can partially disappear during the running and heating process. Whether it completely disappears is possible and debatable. And also some kinds of "amber" don't even have succinic acid.

It also seems that Echard and the other fellows were aware that some thought Amber was a real possibility, and maybe look carefully for it.

Well I might buy some and use it one day as a ground layer!

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a rather bold statement, yet another person whos privy to the secret formula

lyndon,

Secret?

This information is from the research [excellent methodology] done for the Stradivari varnish book by Brigette Brandmair and backed up by the work of JP Echard and Raymond White.

My opinion is that in the world of varnish there are very few secrets left...mine relate not to what I make, but to the methods I use to do the making. Excuse the economic self- interest.

roberto,

Amber varnish is often used as a ground in modern making.

on we go,

Joe

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perhaps you could provide a link to the "secret" formula, joe, as i remember reading it it was no where near that clear......

lyndon,

I will re-check the book to remind my old man memory. However, when Ms Brandmair and I first met, the first 1/2 hour of our conversation centered on this varnish formulation...which we agreed upon based on work done on separate continents, using divergent methods, a decade apart. That I remember quite well.

on we go,

Joe

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