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Michele Deconet


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...notwithstanding that as first-to-publish, it is an inevitable force of nature that numerous of his conclusions must ultimately be open to question as we learn more. I've felt saddened that the nature of this forum with the need to address questions from all directions has at time forced the rhetorical tone into one that sounds more adversarial than collegial. ( Hebbert comment)

-Thank you, I agree with you. As you see in Strad magazine I had 3 lines to replay to an article of several pages of Mr. Dilworth on Venetians if I well remember. It was difficult for me, an Italian, to summarize in a few line the full content of my research. But I agree with you, I could have been less categorical in my statement. Dilworth is an excellent expert and scholar. But (I was asking to myself at the time) why to write an article on Venetians ignoring completely my work and all the documents discovered and published in my book just a few years before? Was this choice more proper than my categorical language? Were all these documents I discovered irrelevant for a complete discussion on Venetians ? I think not.

Dear All,

I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the problems of nuances between Italian and English, and how the strength (or weakness) of a statement can become transformed through translation or perception of language. These last posts I think have put us in a very fair position. Ultimately for observers and contributors on Maestronet, it remains for an open and public review of instruments attributed to Deconet in order to demonstrate the merits of this debate - a debate initiated by the apparent inconsistencies that Stefano observed in his reading of archival documents. I remind you all that there are many people, even those who have gone on to win Nobel prizes for scientific research, who have at times followed paths which should have led to an educated question rather than a firm conclusion. Neither is it completely fair for some of us (myself included) to question this hypothesis based on citing evidence that we are unwilling at this point in time to share. Ultimately these questions can't be resolved until a comprehensive review - such as the long awaited Beare book - becomes available, in which we can only hope that the conclusions are measured by the legitimate questions that have been raised through archival research - not only in Pio's books, but in the knotty issues alluded to in Beare's own assessment from Les Violons, all the way back in 1995. (See Jacob's post)

Given the limitations of Maestronet, perhaps the most dignified thing for all of us would be to give this subject a rest now, instead of going around in contorted knotty problems that cannot be resolved in this domain. After-all, its nearly Christmas!

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  • 2 months later...

"And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here..." Absolutely Carl! In spite of the occasional heated comments, or perhaps because of them, this was a great topic. However, I seem to remember that I had lots of flack flying my way some years ago for suggesting that the Strad brothers must have contributed to the output in Antonio's shop. I think I said that they contributed at least 100 working years between them, and that they were probably not making the tea and sweeping the floor. I even went so far as to say that Antonio's gold period may well have been the 1690's and that the sons may well have produced the so called "golden period" instruments. The same applies to Vuillaume's production. He was certainly not making everything or even nearly everything. 

I got these ideas when I worked for Hills. I made several instruments that were labelled and sold as Hills. Indeed, throughout their most productive period of violin making, I doubt if many, or even if any, instruments were actually made by the Hills themselves. Like the Hill bows they were made by Hill workers. Some are now known other will remain anonymous. Still I have no problems with accepting the  authenticity of these works as Vuillaume or Hill instruments.

As usual Lyndon gets it right, "...whether Deconet was the actual builder or not, a lot of great makers had their violins made by their workers and apprentices..." Oh yes and they still do. I believe that I am one of the few modern makers that has included the names of my employees (I prefer the term partners) on my labels. Since in over 40 years, I only ever had three long term working partners, this was not difficult. Many modern makers, (not only in China as has been suggested here) have very many people producing instruments for them. I see no evidence of this on their labels. 

Now we come to Violadamore. "To me, the only importance of the question is historical accuracy." Well good luck with that! Where does the truth lie? Somehwere in between I would guess. In which case Violadamore probably does have it right in proposing, "...a middle course, that we accept both the violins and the archival testimony and attempt to square the two in some fashion.  

Pio's research is admirable, but if I were to have my life assessed by the various brushes with the authorities that have resulted in my name and profession being recorded; birth, marriage, arrested at two Vietnam rallies, etc. I dread to think what the outcome might be. And if the archives of the German hand workers guild were to be consulted.... In the 1980's and 90's, as far as they were concerned I was an unqualified, unregistered maker who was, for almost ten years, threatened with shop closure and a fine of 17500 German Marks. As an unregistered maker I produced well over 100 instruments in that ten year period. (This did not stop them from taxing me).  

We know that in classical times instruments were exported all over Europe. We also know that cloth merchants often carried many of these instruments. Why does it seem so strange for a travelling musician to be dealing in instruments? Many still do this today. Machold had many fine musicians who were deeply involved in the dealing side of the business.

I also find strange the idea that musicians like Peter Guarneri of Mantua could not have been skilled makers as well. Why not? He was probably trained in the workshop from an early age and could still have played the fiddle to a high Standard. One of my former partners in the workshop Neil Ertz was an excellent musician. He is now a great maker. His musicianship has deteriorated a little because he produces too many instruments. However, if this were the other way around there should be no real problem. Unlike playing, as a maker you do not need to be at it every day or even every year. In fact this may even explain the neatness of Peters works. I think that we all need to sit back here and think a little more flexibly  There are no absolute truths in the history of violin making. None of us were sitting at the bench with these makers. And just in case anyone thinks that a street musician could not have made violins, maybe they should check up on the story of Sgt. Geoffrey Allison, an Army medic in Iraq. Geoffrey made violins in his tent and in the back of a Humvee while on active duty. I saw them and they were better than many modern makers could manage on a good day at home. With little training he has since produced a large number of fine violins. Archive materials are a tremendous help, but they do not tell the whole story any more than a label does, however authentic. Not everyone gets caught in the bureaucratic net. 

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  • 1 month later...

I’m afraid the example you cite (Henley) largely disproves what you wish to say. One should know that Henley did no archival research; rather his dictionary is a sloppy, quite useless translation of Lütgendorff, where Henley occasionally added his (often disgracefully anti-German) invective, to feign having even seen a single instrument from the maker at issue.

 

 

 

 

The "Henley" encyclopedia (actually edited, enlarged and published by Cyril Woodcock, now passed on) also contains many entries on modern and semi modern Italian violin makers which are obviously translated from the Rene Vannes encyclopedia, probably by Cyril Woodcock or a collaborator, with some changed wording to try and disguise the fact.

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The "Henley" encyclopedia (actually edited, enlarged and published by Cyril Woodcock, now passed on) also contains many entries on modern and semi modern Italian violin makers which are obviously translated from the Rene Vannes encyclopedia, probably by Cyril Woodcock or a collaborator, with some changed wording to try and disguise the fact.

 

At the risk of what sounds like advertising...  do have a look at the Brompton's book, which has  evened out a lot of the problems of Henley. Being what it is, it's by no means perfect - how could it ever be? But there is a good element of double checking and cutting out of the fiction and mythology that Henley revelled in. Having said that I shan't be putting my Henley in the bin any time soon - I enjoy a good giggle here and there! 

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The "Henley" encyclopedia (actually edited, enlarged and published by Cyril Woodcock, now passed on) also contains many entries on modern and semi modern Italian violin makers which are obviously translated from the Rene Vannes encyclopedia, probably by Cyril Woodcock or a collaborator, with some changed wording to try and disguise the fact.

You are quite right of course. Lütgendorff was first published in 1904, with a greatly revised and enlarged 2nd. Edition appearing in 1922. The musicologist, Thomas Drescher spent 10 years compiling a supplemental volume, which was published in 1990 which both corrected mistakes and added the post 1922 information. Since Henley/Woodcock was published in 1959 they were obviously obliged to find other sources to plagurise from for the intervening period.
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Vclatl,

Deconet is probably the most prolific of later Venetian violinmakers. He left a large group of instruments with original labels. I see him as a regular maker who progressed gradually, but whose instruments all hang together very well as a group. That said, I think he has been one of the more missidentified makers over the last 100 years.

The backwards logic of Pio, when applied to makers from across Italy not to mention makers acclaimed in his own books, would render many others as musician, non-makers. Amongst other mistakes, he does not seem to understand what Venetian Guild membership signifies.

It appears to me that Pio has started with theory and has bent the facts to fit his theory. Does he use the same measure, then, with other makers in his book? Has anyone else bothered to wade through these books?

By the same measure, I could state that Stradivari learned from Martians. Where are the facts to disprove my theory? Can anyone prove otherwise?

Chris

 

I'd like to follow in the slip-stream of Chris on this one (although without his depth of experience) and say that I have seen quite a few Deconet instruments. All containing features that are either rare or unique to his way of working. I have never really given much thought to the idea that it might be a number of makers - the physical evidence simply doesn't bear this out.

 

I am still not sure about the Martian theory though and might need to think about that for a bit.

 

JKB

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Doh!! Jamie, 

 

Once you've got used to crafting saucer-shaped objects, a violin back or front comes pretty easily. Who else but a Martian is so naturally predisposed to make fiddles? I mean, ... what planet are you on !?!

 

p.s. if you pronounce De-con-et properly it sounds awfully like a dalek! 

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Hello James.

 

I would be curious if you could elaborate on "features that are either rare or unique to his way of working". It is interesting to read all of the posts regarding this discussion but I don't really get any clarification from your post as it stands. Can you be more specfic about these features.

 

Ben you've put the "con" in De-con-et. Not to mention the e.t.

 

Best.

 

r.

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Hey Ben, I get it, but...

 

I feel that it is reasonable to continue the discussion if new ideas come to light. I don't see it as a "merry go round" when someone has stated that they have information which they feel clearly identifies a maker by his "features that are either rare or unique to his way of working". If a poster is not able to clearly present these ideas to the forum then you are correct. Insert appropriate steam driven carnival theme music here.

 

Cheers.

 

r.

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Hey Ben, I get it, but...

I feel that it is reasonable to continue the discussion if new ideas come to light. I don't see it as a "merry go round" when someone has stated that they have information which they feel clearly identifies a maker by his "features that are either rare or unique to his way of working". If a poster is not able to clearly present these ideas to the forum then you are correct. Insert appropriate steam driven carnival theme music here.

Cheers.

r.

Rick, - Jamie is a good friend in the real world. I think he knows I wasn't being mean. Some pages back in this discussion, and some pages before then as well, the issue arises that until there is a sort of forum where genuine Deconet violins can be examined together and in full detail, it really isn't possible to draw a final line under discussions of this sort. Unfortunately Maestronet isn't that forum, and bunging photographs online isn't really going to be an adequate way of establishing standards on something like this all the while that there is a tension about what is and what isn't genuine. I, at least, have a high opinion of Jamie's eye and have seen some of the Deconets, and supposed Deconets that he has seen, and sometimes ones that he has made the call on in his time as an auctioneer. We just get to the same position that Maestronet does not provide a forum where these things can be easily put forward, which is why I am making warning shots about the merry-go-round of the last 12 pages.

I also think he is confirming Chris's view rather than adding new ideas or additional evidence.

Back to the Martian's! There hasn't been enough talk about them!

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P'd off that you're Deconet isn't genuine, embarrassed to own a violin labeled but not made by Deconet???There is a solution, I promise you, that will solve you're problem pronto;;;

 

SEND ME YOUR DECONETS, I'll see that they live out their lives in relative obscurity and won't disturb your unfulfilled dreams anymore!!!

 

Because to be honest with you I could really care less who made it if I could own a genuine 1700s Venetian violin.........or two, or three.......

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Hey there Ben.

 

I guess I was curious as to what the "features" were that were so distinct to Deconet in James' post. I read these threads to learn as much as I can about all aspects of violins, including identification, making, restoring and playing. I am trying my hand at all of these disciplines and find these threads, the good ones, incredibly useful, not just a place to find good stringed instrument jokes, but being a violin nerd I do find them funny as well, is this a run on sentence ?

 

However, when someone posts that they have some knowledge but is vague about the details I find it frustrating or at least I am not certain why the post was made in the first place. I realize that this forum has limitations but I can think of many examples where I have seen well written and equally well photographed/documented posts which have enlightened me.

If James would be kind enough to share his thoughts in more detail I would be grateful as I am sure would others.

 

Ben. Regarding Martians, I have very little experience with them. However I think you could be right about the innate ability to understand and fashion saucer like objects.

 

Cheers.

 

r.

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Dear Rick,

 

There are much more intelligent people out there with far more useful views on the characteristics of Deconet. However, for what it's worth:

 

The treatment of the purfling at the corners is very distinctive and a feature of Deconet (if you hold your thumb and middle finger together, the join between the fingers represents the remarkably large join between the purfling). On all the instruments I have seen, the arching is pinched at the centre which isn't particularly unusual, but seems to be (in my experience) a constant. I think further up the thread the mention of the Guarneri 'point' in the centre of back has been mentioned. John Dilworth mentions the treatment of the scroll 'the throat is not sawn right across at the end of the pegbox mortice, instead being worked from either side with a knife.' This is something I didn't know, so am glad to have read it. I imagine that Chris et. al have a whole load of other features that I blindly ignore.

 

Perhaps taken in isolation none of these traits mean much, but when you have all three together, it does suggest one person, working in his own style which evolves over time. 

 

 

JKB

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I'm certain there will be a blog post sooner or later on Amati.com showing off some peachy genuine Deconet violins, complete with lots of photos... I'll be happy to post it, since I won't be advertising if I do! 

 

Now back to serious matters, when I did a Google image search of "Martian violin" two of the top twenty pictures were of a certain Martin Swan. If there's a conspiracy theory we should be told... 

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I have seen quite a few Deconet instruments. All containing features that are either rare or unique to his way of working.

Curious that you have “seen quite a few Deconet instruments”, since it isn’t long ago that you told us the opposite here

http://www.amati.com/articles/839-michele-deconet.html (Link since Memory-holed)

perhaps you would like to explain. I note that you assume that de Conet was a maker, despite the wealth of documented evidence to the contrary.

Edit 6/2014: I was able to recover the article from the memory hole since I'd saved a copy on my laptop:

post-24603-0-68259300-1402429660_thumb.jpg

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Curious that you have “seen quite a few Deconet instruments”, since it isn’t long ago that you told us the opposite here

[url=http://www.amati.com/articles/839-michele-deconet.html,]

perhaps you would like to explain. I note that you assume that de Conet was a maker, despite the wealth of documented evidence to the contrary.

Dear Jacob,

 

That seems a bit harsh (have we met?). I have seen quite a few Deconet violins. It would be hard not to working for Peter Biddulph et al. In the article I mention that I had seen depressingly few subsequently. Well, unfortunately yes. Part of working in an auction house is that the good violins are a small minority to the others. 

 

I hope that clarifies the seeming disparity in my comments. Otherwise your comments about the documented evidence has been pretty extensively covered by others.

 

Best wishes,

 

JKB

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  • 2 years later...

Could Michele Deconet have given a casual contribution to some workshops' output in Venice, and deal instruments on which he has made, maybe few but, significant things. Such instruments would surely show constant features.

 

In the Peter Biddulph book about Del Gesù , one can read that a conical hole has been observed in a (supposedly) Deconet viola back with compass circles scribed around this hole, it suggests he was an  acquaintance of Pietro da Venezzia. ( thanks Roger Hargrave  et al. )

 

By the way, if there was a limited number of instruments allowed to be sold by a particular shop every year ( due to taxes ), that could explain some  things...

 

Thanks to Stefano Pio  for his interesting contribution and researches

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  • 6 years later...

Sorry to revive this old thread, but it is so intriguing that I would like to contribute a little something as well. After reading this whole thread over two nights, this quote from Benjamin Franklin (1716) came to my mind:

 “It’s impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes.”

Prof. Stefano Pio’s archival research has shown that Michele Deconet was a real person who lived in Venice and died in 1799 at age 88. There was no record to show that he paid taxes for making and selling violins, or any indirect archival evidence to suggest that he could make a violin.   

 On the other hand, violin identification experts have posted that there is a group of violins with authentic “Deconet” labels that are stylistically related. Yes, I am convinced.

So the real question is whether the maker(s) behind this group of instruments is truly Michele Deconet--a real person documented in Venetian archives. The Pio camp says no and the other camp says yes.

From what I have read, there is no definitive evidence to go one way or the other. But my best guess would go with Prof. Pio. In the archives, we could find many violin makers who have no known surviving works. If Michele Deconet was an active violin maker in Venice with 30+ surviving instruments, he must have made hundreds. If he did, there should be a very good chance to find archival materials to support his violin making activities, at least indirectly. But there is not. Hence, I tend to think that he was not a porlific maker. But we must explain why genuine Deconet labels were attached to master violins with some stylistic coherence and how Michele Deconet was involved.

Here, I propose a theory: TAX EVASION. It is just my pet theory with no proof whatsoever. So do not take it too seriously, please.

First, I do not believe that we truly understand how violin sales was conducted in Venice either within or outside the guild system, and nor do we know how it was taxed.

Looking at my research notes on some undisclosed historical tax documents from Cremona, I only noticed one entry related to string instruments in 1558. It listed the tax for each leuti (lute) as 6 soldi (0.3 lire, 13 g of silver). We don’t know the tax rate or what a kind of lute (violin? guitar?) it referred to. It is my impression that moving goods from one city state to the next required taxation upon entry to the city (correct me if I am wrong).

In Hill’s book, an ordinary Brescian violin cost 4 ducats in 1637 (180 g of silver). In Barbieri’s paper, the average taxable income of 15 violin makers in Rome was 340 g of silver in 1708, which meant living in poverty, considering the GDP per capita at around 600 g of silver. The silver weight conversions were given in my recent STRAD magazine article (The Price is Right, Feb 2022).

Considering that the current US GDP is $60K per capita, could we say that the sales/import tax per lute in Cremona was equivalent to $1300? If so, would it make sense for a traveling musician to bring an extra violin that he could sell but claim it as a personal backup instrument? I am suggesting a violin smuggling business.  

 

Here, I propose a hypothetical scenario:

Michele Deconet was a traveling musician but also a traveling salesman of violins. He clandestinely sourced his violins from the low-income makers of Venice. He traveled around to sell them outside Venice. When he attached his own labels outside the city of Venice, it probably just meant that he sold the violins but not necessarily that he made them. When Deconet was not traveling, his traveling musician friends could have sold these violins for him.  

 

Some may say the violin smuggling business model I suggested is a fantasy because no other noted makers operated this way. However, the other makers also didn’t seem to be as enigmatic as Deconet. If Deconet had a normal violin-making career and paid his taxes, we would not be arguing about him here. If the illegal business model was widespread, the tax authority and the guild would have struck it down. I have neither seen a Deconet instrument nor read Prof. Pio’s book (can I still order them?). I can only represent my uninformed thoughts after reading this thread. I don’t mean to offend any experts who have previously posted.

JacobSuanders directed me to look at this old thread due to my interest in violin history. After reading the whole thread, I applaud experts like Stefano Pio, Duane Rosengard, Benjamin Hebbert, Roger Hargrave, Chris Reuning and others who have contributed to this discussion. We know so much about old Italian violins only because generations of experts and scholars like you have dedicated your valuable years to sort things out while shouldering economic sacrifices. The culture of classical Italian violin is alive and well because people like you have passed the torch from one generation to another.

 Nowadays, valuable Chinese guqins (7-string zithers) can also fetch several million US dollars in public auctions (the record is 20 million). What do we know about their makers and history? Almost nothing in most cases. The only reason we know so much about Italian violins (and improving every decade) is because of these passionate experts. Some antique guqins are thought to be over 500 years old, so that radiocarbon dating may be applied. When we compared radiocarbon dating results to the supposed provenances, most of them did not match:

  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1296207421001692

But we were lucky enough to find a real gem, an excellent sounding guqin made around Tang Dynasty, over 1200 years old. All visual, historic, and scientific evidence seems to suggest that it is really that old. If one compare what we know about valuable Italian violins and old Chinese guqins, one will be simply amazed by how much we know about obscure craftsmen living 300 years ago in Italy. Bravo!!

 With my background and training, it may seem ridiculous that I am even trying to conduct research on Italian violin history. Chinese is my first language, English as second language, no knowledge of Italian, only childhood violin lessons, with PhD in chemistry. But I sincerely hope that some of you may find my recent articles in the STRAD magazine partially useful (On Cremona and alchemy in Dec 2021; On Stradivari’s original sales price in Feb 2022). If you see serious mistakes in my published research, please email me at brucehtai@gmail.com.

 My day job is a biochemistry professor who tries to invent new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease (our new drug APNmAb005, a tau protein oligomer antibody, has entered phase I clinical trial in the US in 2022). I have no business interest in violins and simply study them for fun. As an outsider, I would not mind to learn from my own mistakes. For instance, Benjamin Hebbert published a web article that is highly critical of my 2018 PNAS paper (https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1800666115) about the acoustics features of Strad violins, in which I contradicted and criticized Claudia Fritz’ three previous papers in PNAS. Still, I borrowed Ben’s excellent data on Cremonese violin prices in England in my 2022 Strad magazine article (I am sorry that no citations were allowed for data sources within the two-page limit). Because acoustics research on violins is so much harder than instrument identification and archival research, it was easy for Ben to find many logical weaknesses in our arguments. But a new paper by Rozzi et al. (doi: 10.1121/10.0009320) conducted improved listening tests that largely support my arguments over those of Fritz. Rozzi was able to improve the blind listening tests because he saw my criticism about the ones conducted by Fritz. Therefore, I beleive my 2018 PNAS paper was not full of crap or just fantasy. To me, Fritz et al. conducted excellent blind tests that showed me what would not work. I am bringing this up to show that having a debate between researchers helps promote our collective understanding. The wise would see much value in previous research that got things wrong, because it helps late-comers conduct new and better research. To research everything from scratch is just impossible.

EDIT (08/22):  I forgot to link to Prof. Pio's excellent article shared online: https://www.veniceresearch.com/Deconet.pdf , with much biographicla details on Michele Deconet. Of course, Pio already mentioned that Deconet could be selling instruments made by the lesser Venetian makers. I am just speculating that he operated his business so strangely in order to evade taxes.   

Edited by Bruce Tai
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Ok, colleagues, everybody ready for another 10 pages?  flog.gif.fec53dc65a61571305c3fa5e2c390074.gif popcorn.gif.655fa3ebc98882dc0800a03e9a7553a8.gif icon_rofl.gif.901b53eb80bb01128692cdeee8587df1.gif

@Bruce Tai, IMHO, your hypothesis is a variation on my suspicion that Deconet was misrepresenting himself to the authorities in Venice as a musician, when his real business was fiddles.   Unless someone has a new discovery to contribute, haven't these matters already been adequately discussed? :)

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10 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

Sorry to revive this old thread, but it is so intriguing that I would like to contribute a little something as well. After reading this whole thread over two nights, this quote from Benjamin Franklin (1716) came to my mind:

 “It’s impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes.”

Prof. Stefano Pio’s archival research has shown that Michele Deconet was a real person who lived in Venice and died in 1799 at age 88. There was no record to show that he paid taxes for making and selling violins, or any indirect archival evidence to suggest that he could make a violin.   

 On the other hand, violin identification experts have posted that there is a group of violins with authentic “Deconet” labels that are stylistically related. Yes, I am convinced.

So the real question is whether the maker(s) behind this group of instruments is truly Michele Deconet--a real person documented in Venetian archives. The Pio camp says no and the other camp says yes.

From what I have read, there is no definitive evidence to go one way or the other. But my best guess would go with Prof. Pio. In the archives, we could find many violin makers who have no known surviving works. If Michele Deconet was an active violin maker in Venice with 30+ surviving instruments, he must have made hundreds. If he did, there should be a very good chance to find archival materials to support his violin making activities, at least indirectly. But there is not. Hence, I tend to think that he was not a porlific maker. But we must explain why genuine Deconet labels were attached to master violins with some stylistic coherence and how Michele Deconet was involved.

Here, I propose a theory: TAX EVASION. It is just my pet theory with no proof whatsoever. So do not take it too seriously, please.

First, I do not believe that we truly understand how violin sales was conducted in Venice either within or outside the guild system, and nor do we know how it was taxed.

Looking at my research notes on some undisclosed historical tax documents from Cremona, I only noticed one entry related to string instruments in 1558. It listed the tax for each leuti (lute) as 6 soldi (0.3 lire, 13 g of silver). We don’t know the tax rate or what a kind of lute (violin? guitar?) it referred to. It is my impression that moving goods from one city state to the next required taxation upon entry to the city (correct me if I am wrong).

In Hill’s book, an ordinary Brescian violin cost 4 ducats in 1637 (180 g of silver). In Barbieri’s paper, the average taxable income of 15 violin makers in Rome was 340 g of silver in 1708, which meant living in poverty, considering the GDP per capita at around 600 g of silver. The silver weight conversions were given in my recent STRAD magazine article (The Price is Right, Feb 2022).

Considering that the current US GDP is $60K per capita, could we say that the sales/import tax per lute in Cremona was equivalent to $1300? If so, would it make sense for a traveling musician to bring an extra violin that he could sell but claim it as a personal backup instrument? I am suggesting a violin smuggling business.  

 

Here, I propose a hypothetical scenario:

Michele Deconet was a traveling musician but also a traveling salesman of violins. He clandestinely sourced his violins from the low-income makers of Venice. He traveled around to sell them outside Venice. When he attached his own labels outside the city of Venice, it probably just meant that he sold the violins but not necessarily that he made them. When Deconet was not traveling, his traveling musician friends could have sold these violins for him.  

 

Some may say the violin smuggling business model I suggested is a fantasy because no other noted makers operated this way. However, the other makers also didn’t seem to be as enigmatic as Deconet. If Deconet had a normal violin-making career and paid his taxes, we would not be arguing about him here. If the illegal business model was widespread, the tax authority and the guild would have struck it down. I have neither seen a Deconet instrument nor read Prof. Pio’s book (can I still order them?). I can only represent my uninformed thoughts after reading this thread. I don’t mean to offend any experts who have previously posted.

JacobSuanders directed me to look at this old thread due to my interest in violin history. After reading the whole thread, I applaud experts like Stefano Pio, Duane Rosengard, Benjamin Hebbert, Roger Hargrave, Chris Reuning and others who have contributed to this discussion. We know so much about old Italian violins only because generations of experts and scholars like you have dedicated your valuable years to sort things out while shouldering economic sacrifices. The culture of classical Italian violin is alive and well because people like you have passed the torch from one generation to another.

 Nowadays, valuable Chinese guqins (7-string zithers) can also fetch several million US dollars in public auctions (the record is 20 million). What do we know about their makers and history? Almost nothing in most cases. The only reason we know so much about Italian violins (and improving every decade) is because of these passionate experts. Some antique guqins are thought to be over 500 years old, so that radiocarbon dating may be applied. When we compared radiocarbon dating results to the supposed provenances, most of them did not match:

  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1296207421001692

But we were lucky enough to find a real gem, an excellent sounding guqin made around Tang Dynasty, over 1200 years old. All visual, historic, and scientific evidence seems to suggest that it is really that old. If one compare what we know about valuable Italian violins and old Chinese guqins, one will be simply amazed by how much we know about obscure craftsmen living 300 years ago in Italy. Bravo!!

 With my background and training, it may seem ridiculous that I am even trying to conduct research on Italian violin history. Chinese is my first language, English as second language, no knowledge of Italian, only childhood violin lessons, with PhD in chemistry. But I sincerely hope that some of you may find my recent articles in the STRAD magazine partially useful (On Cremona and alchemy in Dec 2021; On Stradivari’s original sales price in Feb 2022). If you see serious mistakes in my published research, please email me at brucehtai@gmail.com.

 My day job is a biochemistry professor who tries to invent new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease (our new drug APNmAb005, a tau protein oligomer antibody, has entered phase I clinical trial in the US in 2022). I have no business interest in violins and simply study them for fun. As an outsider, I would not mind to learn from my own mistakes. For instance, Benjamin Hebbert published a web article that is highly critical of my 2018 PNAS paper (https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1800666115) about the acoustics features of Strad violins, in which I contradicted and criticized Claudia Fritz’ three previous papers in PNAS. Still, I borrowed Ben’s excellent data on Cremonese violin prices in England in my 2022 Strad magazine article (I am sorry that no citations were allowed for data sources within the two-page limit). Because acoustics research on violins is so much harder than instrument identification and archival research, it was easy for Ben to find many logical weaknesses in our arguments. But a new paper by Rozzi et al. (doi: 10.1121/10.0009320) conducted improved listening tests that largely support my arguments over those of Fritz. Rozzi was able to improve the blind listening tests because he saw my criticism about the ones conducted by Fritz. Therefore, I beleive my 2018 PNAS paper was not full of crap or just fantasy. To me, Fritz et al. conducted excellent blind tests that showed me what would not work. I am bringing this up to show that having a debate between researchers helps promote our collective understanding. The wise would see much value in previous research that got things wrong, because it helps late-comers conduct new and better research. To research everything from scratch is just impossible.

EDIT (08/22):  I forgot to link to Prof. Pio's excellent article shared online: https://www.veniceresearch.com/Deconet.pdf , with much biographicla details on Michele Deconet. Of course, Pio already mentioned that Deconet could be selling instruments made by the lesser Venetian makers. I am just speculating that he operated his business so strangely in order to evade taxes.   

I don’t have time this morning to look everything up, so from memory.

 

- Pio documents (multiple sources) that de Conet was an itinerant violinist

- He wouldn’t have possibly been apprenticed in Venice, due to his age when he arrived there, and that he was an itinerant violinist already, although one sees “his” violins as Venetian

- The 18th C Venetian IRS equivalent operated through denunciation, so that the non-tax evading makers would have certainly betrayed him to the authorities

 

Should one live in a degenerate country, where tax evasion is almost an industry and even considered clever, one has no reason to project onto other societies or epochs. GDP is a modern concept, with it’s own grave flaws. Should you go out today and have a big car crash (hope not) you are augmenting American GDP. Indeed, what proportion of American GDP is in fact some form of Ponzi, can be argued ad infinitum. The Nationalbank here (and surely others elsewhere) has no end of indices with a view to working out what things were worth once upon a time. If you speak to them, they will admit that they are all pretty useless. One needs some reference point to convert through. Should one use a lump of coal, a loaf of bread, or (like you) silver, or anything else, one comes to fabulously divergent results.

 

Should you contemplate your “theory Tax Evasion” over a period of decades, you will surely come to the conclusion that it is ridiculous. Italy has it’s peculiarities even today, and an American who goes to Venice and thinks he can open a Tobacconist, or run a Gondel Uber service, would be a screenplay for a Mr. Bean film.

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