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Michele Deconet


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My speculation added to the body of work argument advanced earlier by respectable authorities in this field. :P

There are facts that are largely proved and evidenced by official documents issued by Venetian authorities andor supported by logic and therefore can not be object of further speculation or defined “theory”:

1) Deconet was a vagrant violin player and singer for all his life, very often living outside of Venice (vagrant player) thus excluding the possibility of a constant activity as violin maker (if any).

2) Deconet arrived in Venice when was an adult, consequently nobody would have taken him as workshop apprentice, teaching him the art of violin making according the Venetian style.

3) Pietro Guarneri did not have apprentices or pupils in his workshop, as it is evidenced by the several registrations of the “Marzeri” guild and his tax records. Deconet was not an his apprentice.

4) Deconet did not have an his workshop, he was not registered to the guild, he did not pay taxes as violin maker and consequently he was not in the position of selling instruments (made by him or others) in Venice.

5) Deconet (supposing for a moment he was a maker) was not in the position to compete with large and well organized Venetian workshops like that one of Giorgio Serafin. Consequently Deconet was not “ the most prolific Venetian maker after about 1750” as stated by Charles Beare in Grove dictionary.

6) It was impossible to make instruments secretly for a so long time (even for a short time) without to be discovered and punished by the Venetian authority. Control was strict and made not only by the authority and/or the Guild officers but mainly from the “regular” taxed violin makers that would not have accepted a competitor selling instruments “in black”.

7) All Deconet family members were players and not makers,

What is open to discussion and speculation and it is at the moment theory, not supported by documents or logical evidence is:

1) if Deconet was also an instrument dealer outside of Venice

2) If he labelled instruments with his name

3) If others labelled instruments with his name

If we no accept the value of documents stored from centuries into the archives then we have to reject our full history and knowledge ( in general) because it based mainly on them.

I have made on these last 10 years a comparative stylistic research on instruments attributed to Deconet ( I think more than one hundred). The conclusion I reached is that some instruments attributed to him were made without doubt by Giorgio Serafin and other by Domenico Montagnana. I am convinced also that several “Deconet instruments” were made also by Lazinger, the two Ongaro’s , the two Santini and Andrea Comel.

The latter worked for about 15 years together with P. Guarneri in Sellas “bottega” and after that opened an his personal workshop 10 meters close to Pietro Guarneri workshop. Is therefore logical to suppose a strong affinity with Pietro Guarneri. I think that the Deconet instruments bearing affinities with Pietro Guarneri can be more logically attributed to Comel.

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In my experience, "indisputable evidence" is often what a learned authority utters just before the riot starts. A lot of historical scholarship is based on complicated logical synthesis that won't be immediately obvious to even one's closest colleagues. The "evidence" is probably still where Paul found it, but "indisputable" doesn't mean "obvious" and nobody else has "added the sums" identically.. Now I really would like to see his papers located. One wonders if his material on Deconet was independent of what Pio found?

BTW, forgive my forgetfulness in the excitement of the moment, thank you, Jacob for a magnificent post.

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I remember being very interested to see this when it came out in The Strad. I wrote to Mr. Youngman a couple of times and offered to help get Mr. Paul's manuscripts organised and published. He was not impressed. He was very concerned that all the profits of the book should go to Mr. Paul's widow - and didn't seem to believe that violin books usually lose money. Then he wanted to know what kind of old Italian violins were in my collection. When I confessed that I was just a student and didn't have an old Italian violin collection he lost interest in me.

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I have a question. I just received my copy of "4 Centuries of Violin Making" and thought "Oh great I can use this reference book, which has been so heartily recommended, to do some research about Deconet". I would have thought that a figure of his importance would have been included. I believe that Tom Ingles worked with Stefano Pio on one of his books on Venetian violins so maybe this partially influenced the omission. John Dilworth, the other contributor to the Sotheby's book has certain specific feelings (Bromptons article http://www.bromptons.co/reference-library/articles/article-3876-michele-deconet.html) regarding the veracity of claims that Deconet was an actual maker. Therefore why the lack of representation in the Sotheby's book. I wonder if there were discussions which even considered Deconet for the book or they just didn't consider him important or perhaps verifiable enough.

Thoughts ?

Also I must add that the Sotheby's book is a really nice book.

r.

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There are facts that are largely proved and evidenced by official documents issued by Venetian authorities andor supported by logic and therefore can not be object of further speculation or defined “theory”:

1) Deconet was a vagrant violin player and singer for all his life, very often living outside of Venice (vagrant player) thus excluding the possibility of a constant activity as violin maker (if any).

2) Deconet arrived in Venice when was an adult, consequently nobody would have taken him as workshop apprentice, teaching him the art of violin making according the Venetian style.

3) Pietro Guarneri did not have apprentices or pupils in his workshop, as it is evidenced by the several registrations of the “Marzeri” guild and his tax records. Deconet was not an his apprentice.

4) Deconet did not have an his workshop, he was not registered to the guild, he did not pay taxes as violin maker and consequently he was not in the position of selling instruments (made by him or others) in Venice.

5) Deconet (supposing for a moment he was a maker) was not in the position to compete with large and well organized Venetian workshops like that one of Giorgio Serafin. Consequently Deconet was not “ the most prolific Venetian maker after about 1750” as stated by Charles Beare in Grove dictionary.

6) It was impossible to make instruments secretly for a so long time (even for a short time) without to be discovered and punished by the Venetian authority. Control was strict and made not only by the authority and/or the Guild officers but mainly from the “regular” taxed violin makers that would not have accepted a competitor selling instruments “in black”.

7) All Deconet family members were players and not makers,

What is open to discussion and speculation and it is at the moment theory, not supported by documents or logical evidence is:

1) if Deconet was also an instrument dealer outside of Venice

2) If he labelled instruments with his name

3) If others labelled instruments with his name

If we no accept the value of documents stored from centuries into the archives then we have to reject our full history and knowledge ( in general) because it based mainly on them.

I have made on these last 10 years a comparative stylistic research on instruments attributed to Deconet ( I think more than one hundred). The conclusion I reached is that some instruments attributed to him were made without doubt by Giorgio Serafin and other by Domenico Montagnana. I am convinced also that several “Deconet instruments” were made also by Lazinger, the two Ongaro’s , the two Santini and Andrea Comel.

The latter worked for about 15 years together with P. Guarneri in Sellas “bottega” and after that opened an his personal workshop 10 meters close to Pietro Guarneri workshop. Is therefore logical to suppose a strong affinity with Pietro Guarneri. I think that the Deconet instruments bearing affinities with Pietro Guarneri can be more logically attributed to Comel.

Wow. This is Fascinating reading, thank you for educating us on this subject, Professor.

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What would be different about Deconet's times that would make it good business sense to take violins by more known and established makers and put his own name in in them? That would be like me putting my name in an Alf or Darnton; I can't spell Zygmuntowicz.... (now THAT would be a reason to put my name in one)

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"What in the area of string instruments specifically makes a statement in a marriage record acceptable testimony, but a statement on a label found inside an instrument itself negligible testimony?"

A damp piece of cloth placed on an original label for about 5 minutes prior to its removal and another minute or so to glue in a fresh one and, as Jacob correctly asserts - witnesses and scribes.

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What would be different about Deconet's times that would make it good business sense to take violins by more known and established makers and put his own name in in them? That would be like me putting my name in an Alf or Darnton; I can't spell Zygmuntowicz.... (now THAT would be a reason to put my name in one)

That might depend on how spectacular a player Deconet was, although it's a bit surprising to learn that he apparently couldn't read music.

Even today you routinely see manufacturers brand their wares with the name of a celebrity. In fact it's all part of the co-branding schtick. Not saying this is what happened, but if Deconet was itinerant what better way to market your fiddles to a wider geography.

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Re post 64: But what usually happens, as was mentioned the other day, a Menuhin or a Mischakoff might sell an "ex" violin for a premium, but they didn't put their own label in it. So if Deconet was making it as a known violinist, he'd make more money by saying, "This here Montagnana was the favorite of the king when I played it before his majesty just last month. You should buy it." (In Italian of course :lol: )

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It appears to me that Deconet's history is missing a few important links. Why would a "vagrant street musician" be traipsing around Italy with a comparative fortune in fine instruments to sell, often so fine that we still treasure them? If he didn't have some arrangement with the guild luthiers, how did he obtain the violins, did someone extend him credit? Who? If somebody was backing Deconet, one has to ask why? As well, there is the persistent question of why his name was put in all those violins. The explanation of him helping some luthier friends avoid the ephemeral direct tax on goods doesn't address the apparently much longer periods before and after that when he was also selling violins marked as his own produce. Frankly, the whole business reeks. Something illicit was going on and there was most probably serious (from the POV of the people concerned) money involved. The Republic was undoubtedly being diddled out of taxes in some fashion, but the who, how, and why is missing to make it readily understandable.

I do not at all dispute that what is in the archives is generally trustworthy, but I can also envision, say 300 years from now, when much prosaic knowledge that we take for granted has been lost, some scholars debating why the 20th Century Repubblica Italiana kept dragging poor innocent businessmen from Sicily into court as feudal lords of organized crime when the surviving records show they frequently testified that they merely dealt in olives and grapes.

Much has been made of witnessed documents. Are modern violin certs, valuations, etc. ever notarized?

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Lets tick that box, and move onto the next interesting questions, like who were Lazinger, the two Ongaro’s , the two Santini and Andrea Comel, where did they come from, from who did they learn, what do their instruments look like, and how can we tell them all apart.

For infos on the following Venetian violin makers and their workshop (years 1760 ca - 1810 ca) I invite you to read my book “Liuteri and Sonadori, Venice 1750 - 1870” :

- Pietro Bagatella, bottega (workshop) all’insegna “ Beata Vergine del Rosario”. On 1785 the bottega passed to:

- Felice and Domenico de Luca

- Antonio II Bagatella, a different bottega

- Zuanne and Ignazio Ongaro with bottega in Calle degli Stagneri

- Molinari family , bottega all’insegna di Sant’Antonio ( 6 people working on there)

- Antonio Indri with his own bottega

- Pietro Valentino Novello, surnomed Marco, taking the bottega of Bellosio

- Giovan Battista e Giovanni Maria Santini with bottega all’insegna della SS. Concezione

For the following Venetian violin makers and their workshop ( years 1730ca -1770 ca) I invite you to read my book “Violin and Lute Makers of Venice 1640 - 1760”

- Andrea Comel, pupil of Goffriller, working with Guarneri in Matteo Sellas shop and after that a bottega owner

- Martin Lazinger, a pupil of Goffriller after that working in the several botteghe in Calle dei Stagneri

- Angelo and Andrea Sopran with bottega “ all’Angelo”

- Zuanne Ongarato, working with any probability in Montagnana workshop

Venetian school is still partially known. An attribution of the instruments made by these 21 mentioned violin makers has not yet made: it is a huge work that request the contribute of many. I don’t know if it will be possible also.

For sure the main part of instruments passing under the name of Deconet was made by them.

If it is weird the appearing of labels with Deconet name, it is more weird the total lack of labels of these violin makers. On this question nobody seems to reflect enough.

I think that it can be partially explained with the general interest to avoid taxes selling unlabelled instruments (Goffriller docet) that have been after that relabelled with the name of Deconet. But we are here in the land of theory and speculation.

The famous pin point in the centre of the back of “Deconet instruments” is not proof of the existence of Deconet as violin maker pupil of Guarneri. It is only evidence of someone using the same building methodology (as I suppose Andrea Comel did) or, more generally, a compass.
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@Violadamore:

Surely, should one wish to have an adult discussion, documented facts always trump suppositions, otherwise one soon finds oneself having discussions like:

P. Deconet was not a violin maker but an itinerant musician

VdA. Rubbish, who the hell said that?

P: Deconet said that himself multiple times

VdA. What the F*** does Deconet know about it, he didn’t work for Sacconi, did he?

Lets tick that box, and move onto the next interesting questions, like who were Lazinger, the two Ongaro’s , the two Santini and Andrea Comel, where did they come from, from who did they learn, what do their instruments look like, and how can we tell them all apart.

Many thanks to Prof. Pio thus far for his help, and perhaps he could point us in the right direction re. those 4 names, which were unfamiliar to me.

Jacob, the comments putting those revolting responses in my mouth in your last post were uncalled for. If the discussion descends to that level, it won't be my doing.

On the subject of documented facts always trumping "suppositions", I'll give you the case of Wegener and "continental drift", which is now known as "plate tectonics" and taught as geological gospel. There are many more.

The point of my presentation is that the conclusions drawn from the archival material alone do not cover all of the observed facts of the matter. I suggest a reason, hypothesizing that the recorded data in Deconet's atypical case are defective due to deliberate falsification. This has no effect on the more typical cases. The other sonadores do not have labels found in the backs of violins. BTW, the supposition that Stradivari studied under Amati is based on a single label.

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BTW, the supposition that Stradivari studied under Amati is based on a single label.

That Stradivari was an Amati pupil is probably a Victorian assumption, passed on from generation to generation, until it became the 11th. commandment. I certainly read it first in the Hill book, although I presume that they will have it from somewhere else (I will have to look it up in Otto). That it is, to put it mildly “unsure” is, I think, common ground, not just because it is “based on a single label”.

Another factor which was always disturbing, pertaining to that theory, is that those makers considered “Amati pupils” all seem to have adopted the working method which, for whatever reason, involves this ominous “pin prick” in the centre of the back. Stainer’s violins, for instance have this “pin prick”, which is handy when one is charged with working out if a nice Stainer labeled violin really is one.

Lets hope that this “supposition” re the Strad/Amati relationship will soon be superseded by original 17th/18th. Century documentary evidence, to eliminate any need for us to argue about it.

Quite why the Venetian archives should have been “defective due to deliberate falsification” is not apparent to me.

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Quite why the Venetian archives should have been “defective due to deliberate falsification” is not apparent to me.

When looking at the peculiar case of M. Deconet, it is apparent that there is a disjoint between the listing of him as a violin player on numerous documents combined with no known record of him in any luthier's guild on the one hand, and the existence of violins containing labels naming him as the maker. Even if one dismisses all of the labels as impostures or forgeries, one is left with the question of why Deconet's name was attached and not that of a recognized luthier. This in turn creates some questions as to why the guild took no action against whoever was doing this, for presumption if for nothing else.

As to the competing hypotheses already presented when I asked my first question, both the established positions seem to take an "all or none" approach. Either one accepts the positive evidence of the archives that Deconet was only a player and neglects the violins, or one accepts the positive evidence of the violins and ignores the archives. That both positions, incidentally, contain assumptions ("suppositions") not supported by the currently discovered and published documentation I'll leave to the reader to verify rather than tiresomely list the statements containing "probably", those based on negative evidence, and so on. I will note that the principal unsupported assumption of both is that Deconet ever sold a violin in his life. Not one bill of sale, commission, ledger, record of litigation over profits, testimony of a buyer or a consignor, etc. has been cited in support of either hypothesis. Another dangling question, btw., is what Deconet was doing to afford the improved housing that the records testify to.

I propose a middle course, that we accept both the violins and the archival testimony and attempt to square the two in some fashion. The simplest assumption to make, I would think, is that Deconet habitually prevaricated about his profession for some reason, and that he was involved in the violin business despite repeatedly identifying himself as a sonadore. N. B. While both of the expert positions state that he must have sold violins, Deconet himself never says so. I find it a short putt from admitting he concealed one fact about himself to assuming that he was hiding a great deal more, such as actually making some, or assisting guild members in some kind of profitable subterfuge. I find it rather amusing that some posters who usually seem to take the position in this particular subforum that people who trade in violins outside "respectable" milieus are shifty weasels who reek of untruth would have any difficulty with my suggestion at all :D

One last observation, according to Professor Pio's article linked to this thread, enforcement of the guild rules in Venice depended on actions brought by the guild members in court. The negative corollary of this would be that if the guild aquiesced in something, or at least agreed to ignore an infraction, nothing was done.

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Research in 2 or 3 hundred year old official archives will never amount to a complete detailed 24/7 picture, but always leave one joining dots. Neither has anyone ignored the violins. In fact people have wondered if he was a disciple of variously Goffriller, Guarneri, Serafin or Montagnana all of which simultaneously is more than implausible. Learning with only one of those would be unlikely too, since he was too old for an apprentiship when arriving in Venice and it wouldn’t be compatible with instruments resembling one here and another there.

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I never really understand why these forums get so vitriolic. I assume that we are all interested in learning about violins or we would be spending our valuable time doing other things. It is a real turn off when things gets nasty. I would just like to suggest that we try to support each other instead of tearing into one another. There may be points of contention when having a discussion but it never contributes anything when it becomes personal. I would say that the only person who has a right to be grumpy about this particular post would be Deconet himself and he doesn't have a computer.

I feel very privileged to be able to discuss violins with others in such an open forum. Where else can one do this ? I would also sincerely like to thank Jeffrey Holmes for keeping things civil and on track. I really don't know how he finds the time to do it but l appreciate it very much.

Now back to our regular programming:

A debate on Deconet.

r.

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I never really understand why these forums get so vitriolic. I assume that we are all interested in learning about violins or we would be spending our valuable time doing other things. It is a real turn off when things gets nasty. I would just like to suggest that we try to support each other instead of tearing into one another.

Rick... I very much appreciate you!!! :)

There is some very interesting information in this thread so far, and I do hope more is forthcoming... debate can be a positive thing, but posturing and insults do not lend to a constructive discussion... and personally, I don't believe they contribute to one's credibility.

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There were no receipts if the parties involved didn't want a paper trail.

Seems like pretty simple tax avoidance by a violinist and dealer working with local makers, themselves avoiding taxation.

That sounds to me like a defensible position. The most reasonable conclusion to this may be to accept that the question cannot be totally settled by the tools of history (unless new data are discovered) because the objects of our inquiry weren't very cooperative with the recorders.

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