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Michele Deconet


GoldenPlate

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I kind of doubt it. The Konzertmeister in Bremen had a Lorenzo Guadagnini, with all the top papers one could wish for, and nobody would have dreamt of suggesting it wasn`t one, or even had the slightest idea themselves, quite the opposite, we queued to admire it, untill the cited archival research. I would love to know what a Comer or Ongaro etc. looks like too! Curious that an inn-keeper can`t make a violin, and an itinerant musician can make dozens of very nice ones, isn`t it?

It didn't sound "superb" anymore; now that it wasn't a Carcassi (Guadagnini). :)

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I imagine those who have posed alternate views are serious, Flyboy... otherwise they might not have mentioned them. Those participating have admitted their own limitations, but honestly I am personally aware that (politely and correctly in my opinion) none have waded too deeply into other information (yet unpublished) from other sources, nor questioned the veracity of instruments owned by others in a public forum... Example; If Mr. Reuning states he (and others) have catalogued 50 Deconet instruments he (and others) are satisfied with, and Mr. Pio claims to have examined "more than 100" attributed to Deconet (post #51), might it be a possibility there is some disagreement concerning these remaining 50+?

In any case, having a discussion is where these views get pounded out and clarified, don't you think (or are you an expert on Venetian instruments and archival information yourself)? Personally, I'm enjoying the thread and doing my best to absorb the varied viewpoints and examples.

Are you including yourself in the posturing group, Stephen? See above.

I certainly have to wonder if people are serious when they present rebuttals that imply they've not even read, never mind understood, the arguments of the other side. The very same people that have caricatured Pio's arguments solely down to individual components enumerated below without bothering to address the totality of his arguments:

  • Deconet couldn't be a violin maker because he called himself a "sonador"
  • Deconet couldn't be a violin maker because he didn't serve an apprenticeship in Venice
  • No understanding of the organization of Venetian shops, or the various guild requirements

No, I have not claimed to be a specialist on archives or Venetian violins. But it must be a perverse form of expertise that asks independent observers to simultaneously forego the facility of reason, to be blind, and suspend disbelief, without providing one iota of EVIDENCE. (Pointing to the Voller Brothers is not evidence, that's a dodge.) At least Vuillaume finally got to see the Messiah and he didn't even have to wait 40 years.

Incidentally, here's the context of Pio's post #51 regarding the hundred+ instruments attributed to Deconet (emphasis mine):

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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Flyboy. It may be helpful if you imagine you're kind of in my virtual living room. I suggest you drop the sarcasm/condescension and question/debate, rather than taunt, the other participants when you disagree with them. While you can argue "I'm not the only one", you can comfort yourself in the knowledge that you're the only one in the living room I am addressing at this specific moment.

You seem to be an intelligent fellow with a viewpoint worth sharing. It's a shame that so much of it gets lost.

Concerning post #51; Yes, I read it. I was careful to use the word "attributed", so obviously I understood it. My point stands.

I'll probably let this exchange stay up for a while to make sure everyone "gets it out of their system", then trim it back a bit so we can better stick to the subject.

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Flyboy,

There have been 156 posts in this thread, and my eyes go ever-so-slightly blurred when I try to pick through them, but having followed this topic carefully throughout, and looking at the responses of both sides, I am satisfied that there is more than reasonable doubt on each of the three points that you have highlighted, and I think that doubt has been well tested within the eight pages of this thread.

We all accept that a Deconet label "belongs" in these instruments, no matter who actually made them. There is a lack of reason if we accept that the labels have belonged inside the instruments since the day that they were made, but promote the idea that these labels have no relevance.

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i think what professor Pio has established is reasonable doubt that Deconet did not make violins, BUT NOT ABSOLUTE PROOF, i dont know how 250 years later we can establish absolute proof about any thing from records like this, i mean common knowledge would tell you that a jet setting playboy could not also be a top violin maker, but David Burgess is just that!!! maybe an innkeeper made violins, maybe a musician made violins, how are we going to have absolute proof otherwise, we can say its very unlikely, but as far as i know thats not what professor Pio is saying, hes speaking in absolutes as are it seems his detractors, perhaps we can never know the truth 100%, but at least we can tell that more evidence points to mr Deconet being a marketer of violins rather than a maker, per se, but how many other great makers throughout history were more marketers than makers, even the illustrious EH Roth (I) comes to mind, etc etc

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... .not contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way, and frankly tends to cause those who have tangible knowledge of the instruments involved to toss their hans up and say "why bother?"

I stated my observations early on, and have been content to follow the discussion as it's progressed. I have not argued with Mr. Pio, and I'm happy he has been willing to participate.

Because of my profession, I just might be privy to additional information and a different interpretation of data as well... but since it's not my information, and therefore don't feel it's my place to botch it up with a poor, incomplete, and irresponsible representation of it here, I'll just keep my mouth shut.

The foremost person in this thread who would certainly have reason to ”toss his hands up and say why bother” can surely only be Prof. Pio. If one were to read his 2 books on all Venetian Makers, (the third one is more to do with the origin of the Viola da Gamba) it would take one a whole week of evenings, since it is almost entirely made up of an immense quantity of original documents of the time, put into their context. Only then could one be in a position to judge, if one is in possesion of “additional information”, or not.

Should the books not be availiable in the states, they can be purchased here:

http://www.holfter.c...774b4f&x=4&y=10

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1) The foremost person in this thread who would certainly have reason to ”toss his hands up and say why bother” can surely only be Prof. Pio....

2) Only then could one be in a position to judge, if one is in possesion of “additional information”, or not...

1) "...those who have tangible knowledge of the instruments involved to toss their hands up and say "why bother?"

Did you think I was excluding him? I wasn't. He's gone quiet as well.

2) "...don't feel it's my place to botch it up with a poor, incomplete, and irresponsible representation of it here, I'll just keep my mouth shut."

I think I was clear enough. I'll leave this to those who have spent time working in the archives, including Prof. Pio.

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Stephen,

I hate to disappoint you, but the aforementioned are both dealers. I guess you cant trust them either!

Christopher - thank you but I am not unaware of that - you'll note that my point was stated thus (emphasis added):

I don't think reliable scholarship can be entrusted exclusively to those who have a vested interest in making profit from it.

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The clamour on this Maestronet thread leaves me wondering what and where the “controversy” may be.

How many of the commentators on this thread have taken the time to read Mr. Pio’s books?

Along with Chris Reuning, I don’t believe Mr. Pio’s propensity for arguing from theories to the facts helps anyone. It is extremely unfair for Mr. Pio to mix theories, speculation and fact in a manner that the reader cannot distinguish. Through self-referencing and repetition, he has tried to elevate this entirely subjective method into a doctrine. It has been shocking to read Mr. Pio’s premptory tone in defence of his publications. What educational or cultural purpose is served by his Salomonic pronouncements?

Before commenting on the many topics discussed in the past few days, let me plead with readers: first, carefully read the content of the Venetian documents (or excepts) without prejudice. Second, I beg all readers to abandon the presumption that European guild laws and commercial rules (whether they be French, German, Dutch, etc.) are mirrored in pre-Napoleonic Venice. Similarly, please discard the axiom that every good or great violin maker of the past “must have had” a training period with a teacher (and the corrolary, that every master had a pupil or pupils.)

* * *

Mr. Pio’s extremely personal interpretations of Venetian laws, guild rules and social customs left me with the impression that Venice in Deconet’s time was a police state of truly Orwellian scope that not only monitored but controlled the behavior of Guild members and non members. The only analogy might be to Cambodia in the Pol Pot era; not even during the Fascist Ventennio would a fiddler be persecuted for making (or trying to sell) a fiddle.

How were Guild laws interpreted, respected or enforced? Was the situation confronted by instrument makers the same in the Renaissance as it was in 1720? What defines “Guild Membership” in 18th century Venice beyond the obvious fact that members paid taxes to the Mercer’s Guild (Arte de Marzeri)? I don’t believe that any of these questions have uniform or absolute answers over the three hundred years during which Venetian guild records were created.

One critical question is overlooked by Mr. Pio: In the period when the greatest violins and cellos were produced in Venice, was a candidate of the “lauter” subclass within the Venetian Mercer’s Guild required to demonstrate the abililty to personally craft a product like a lute, a violin, guitar, etc.? The answer is clearly “No.” This may be the single greatest difference between the local Venetian tradition and the norms of certain guilds in other parts of Europe. The current Maestronet dialogue reflects the poor state of our collective understanding.

Squaring the exisiting Venetian Guild records (which are by no means complete) with the reality of instruments produced in Venice is a daunting task. Below I attempt to broaden the perspectives of the Maestronet community by sharing some details of what I gleaned after some years of studying many of the same Venetian documents cited by Mr. Pio.

The most comprehensive definition I can offer is that a Guild Member in Venice (a “Marzer”) was a shopkeeper or “tradesman” that occupied a store front (usually on a commercial street). A “craftsman” was often someone else, though through the existing production of makers like Montagnana, Matteo Goffriller and, for a time, Santo Serafin and Pietro Guarneri, we know they could be both shopkeeper and craftsman. To assume that the formula tradesman = craftsman is always correct is to ignore the large variety of anomalies presented by stores/shops with multi decade longevity that left no trace, in documents or surviving instruments, of production. It is thus important to keep in mind that a “lauter” (luthier) cite in the Mercer’s Guild documents may or may not be a productive craftsman. In the post 1690 “Violin Era”, guild records deal in one way or another with the rapport between the Guild hierarchy and the proprietor / occupant of the “luthier shop.”

Mr. Pio’s publications and recent commentary treat the distinctions outlined above in a haphazard fashion, by turns “restricted” for some individual craftsmen, and extremely general for others. Below I have outlined some significant facts and circumstances in the cases of a few notable personalities whose names might resonate with readers:

1) Mr. Pio does not furnish any archival evidence dating from Francesco Gobetti’s lifetime (1675-1723) that confirms that he was a “legal lauter”, though a few Venetian documents refer to Gobetti posthumously by the profession “calegher” (shoemaker, or a maker of footwear). It is not certain when or where Gobetti had a shop. Gobetti’s name has not been found in existing documents of either the Guild of Calegher or the Mercer’s.

2) The leading “lauter” within the Mercer’s Guild in early 18th century Venice, both in terms of personal wealth and taxes paid, was Mattio Sellas (1678-1731) who had inherited a significant fortune including one or two workshops. He married extremely well and operated like a true capo di famiglia. But did he get his hands dirty at the workbench? Not as far as I can tell. He managed his firm’s accounts with institutions, employed craftsmen like Andrea Comel (circa 1715) and may have recruited Pietro Guarneri. I cannot point to evidence that even hints at the possibility Sellas knew how to build an instrument, sold such an instrument bearing his name, or could teach or direct someone else to build such an instrument for him.

3) The workshop of another Guild member, Anzolo Sopran, was inventoried shortly after his death in 1734. The inventory’s author was an expert from every standpoint: Domenico Montagnana, who catalogued new and old “German” violins, plucked instruments, bows, guitar pieces, tools of various types and lots of strings from Rome and Perugia. Nothing is positively identified as Sopran’s own finished work. Montagnana prepared this document for the Venetian magistrate charged with the tutleage of Sopran’s minor age children, who in this instance had legal rights juxtaposed to those of Sopran’s second wife; the document was not used for purposes of taxation.

At Sopran’s first marriage in 1715 he was described by the officiating priest as a “lauter.” As a witness to the ceremony, Mattio Sellas was termed a “mercante” or merchant, a higher social grade than the “lauter” applied to Sellas himself by the Mercer’s (Merchant’s) Guild.

4) After more than a decade in Venice, Carlo Tononi dictated his testament, only days before his death in 1730. He refers to his modest earthly possessions, his profession, tools, his brother Felice and a nobleman in Pesaro who possessed a cello by Tononi. A dogmatic thinker might anguish over Tononi, who while in Venice did not join the Mercer’s Guild and did not apparently operate a store front; he not only labelled his violins and cellos, but branded many of them and a few bows, too! Is such behavior compatible with an artist-craftsman that Mr. Pio maintains (with no supporting documentation whatsoever) worked behind the scenes and/or in a subordinate capacity? Not really. But Mr. Pio (in his discourse on both Tononi and Pietro Guarneri, oddly enough) states matter of factly that Tononi worked for Matteo Sellas - another of the undocumented and tenuous “facts” that pepper Pio’s work. Tononi himself would have certainly taken deep offense to Mr. Pio’s definition of him as “one of the principal Venetian luthiers”; such sweeping generalities are not just wrong but lead the author to myriad dubious conclusions.

Tononi’s continuous self-advertising in the 1720s reinforces the idea that he considered himself superior to mere “tradesmen” (whether Sellas, Sopran or another). Is it possibile that Tononi was uninterested in general over-the-counter retail commerce? What if Tononi’s core clientele was not Venetian? There are other important considerations: why would Tononi leave his native Bologna, where he was the head of his own well established workshop? Why go and work in Venice for someone else? These are real biographical questions that pertain to the man and his art.

5) As a young man in the region around his native Treviso, Domenico Busan was described by a notary in 1740 as a “marangon e fenestriere” or woodworker and window hanger. Busan was still living in Treviso in October 1745, practically until the eve of his departure for Venice. He then appears in Venetian guild records in January 1747 with a “negozio da lauter” (luthier business or shop). In that very month Busan was given an intimation to join the Venetian Mercer’s Guild as “Capo Mastro”. On 22 January 1747 Busan personally appeared before the Guild secretary and promised to pay his initiation fee. But did he ever pay everything the Guild demanded? Until 1752, Busan’s name appears in Mercer’s Guild records as a debtor, only to suddenly vanish. But then, as Prof. Thomas Baumann discovered decades ago, Busan joined a musician guild, the “Arte de Sonadori nella Chiesa di San Silvestro” from 1753 onwards. (As far as I could determine, there was no chronological overlap in Busan’s membership in the two different guilds.) Meanwhile, in church records from the 1750s through 1770s Busan is consistently called a “lauter;” further documents show he joined a different musician guild called the “Arte de Sonadori nella scuola di Tagliapietra in S. Appolinare.”

From the foregoing, I hope it is clear that Busan could not possibly have complied with the Venetian Guild rules that Mr. Pio claims strictly governed apprenticeships and “Master” qualifications: Busan did not live in Venice much more than a year before opening a shop there. Early in life he worked in other trades and he wore two hats for the thirty years before his death in 1783. I would hesitate to affirm categorically that Busan was an “employee” of his friend Zuane Ongaro (Matteo Goffriller’s son-in-law). But there can be little doubt that the majority of Busan’s infrequent production dates from after his episodic membership in the Mercer’s Guild. Busan may have been a failed shopkeeper but he managed to build a modest career as an artisan / craftsman.

6) In February 1745 Santo Serafin resigned in good standing from the Mercer’s Guild.

The relevant document reads:

[santo Serafin] “…voluntarily declares that he renounces the profession of Mercer, not wishing any longer to involve himself in the sale of merchandise of the pertinent kind; but, desiring to remain a confrere of the said school [guild], he declares his readiness to pay each year on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin his candle tax of 4 ducats as in the past …”

(“…volontariamente dichiara rinuntiar alla proffessione del Marzer non volendo ingerirci più nella vendita de Merze a quella attinenti et aspettanti; ma desiderando restar Confratello di detta scola dichiara di esser pronto ogn’anno il giorno della Beata Vergine Assunta pagar la sua Luminaria di D 4 come fecce per il passato….”)

Without belaboring the message, Santo renounced the profession of merchant, but he did not promise to quit making violins and throw his tools in the Grand Canal! Santo went on to live for another 31 years …

7) The overall outline of Pietro Guarneri II’s biography was researched by prof. Giovanni Livi in the 1920s and published by the Hill brothers in the final chapter of their famous work on the Guarneri family. Such fundamental background goes unmentioned in Mr. Pio’s second book. Nevertheless, Mr. Pio cites numerous unpublished baptismal records of Pietro’s children and various guild documents regarding Pietro.

From the latter source material, which is rather abundant, we learn that Pietro Guarneri (b. 1695) joined the Mercer’s Guild in October 1733. He had already been in Venice for more than 15 years by this date and not even Mr. Pio would claim that any craftsman in Venice had something to teach him… Pietro is subsequently named in more than two dozen guild documents as “Iseppo Guarnieri.” There is little doubt that this “Iseppo” is in fact Pietro, since he is often indentified as the “lauter” Guarneri residing in the Parish of San Lio. Pietro’s eldest son, who was named Iseppo and was born in 1729, entered the clergy in 1748 and lived until July 1790. Between the facts and the apparent anomalies, which are unique to any known lauter in Venice, what was happening?

Pietro was, of course, Cremonese (“foreign” to the Venetians), and his first born son was Venetian, and possibly the father utilized his son’s name when entering the Guild as part of a long term scheme or eventual succession plan. Even if this hypothetical plan did not come to fruition because Iseppo chose the clergy, Pietro still had another four sons who, lacking any information to the contrary, seem to have reached adulthood: Antonio Simon, born in 1733, Marco Antonio born in 1737, and Giacomo Clemente born in 1744. Try as I might, I didn’t learn anything about the lives of these Guarneris in Venice.

Such details in geneaology might not matter, in my view, were it not for the fact that the family in question is the second most important in all of 18th century violin making. The Hill version of Pietro’s biography tapers quietly to this master’s death in April 1762. Mr. Pio’s version concludes in a murky fog of armchair speculation that, unfortunately, does not increase our knowledge beyond the point where Livi’s work concluded.

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The clamour on this Maestronet thread leaves me wondering what and where the “controversy” may be.

How many of the commentators on this thread have taken the time to read Mr. Pio’s books?

Along with Chris Reuning, I don’t believe Mr. Pio’s propensity for arguing from theories to the facts helps anyone. It is extremely unfair for Mr. Pio to mix theories, speculation and fact in a manner that the reader cannot distinguish. Through self-referencing and repetition, he has tried to elevate this entirely subjective method into a doctrine. It has been shocking to read Mr. Pio’s premptory tone in defence of his publications.

Wow ! Nice post ! Now for people like myself, with limited attention span, is Deconet a real maker or not ?

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Wow ! Nice post ! Now for people like myself, with limited attention span, is Deconet a real maker or not ?

Said like a product of the MTV generation, Carl. :)

Duane; Thank you so much for contributing. I know your time, especially this time of year, is quite dear. Love to hear more as you have time.

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6) In February 1745 Santo Serafin resigned in good standing from the Mercer’s Guild.

The relevant document reads:

[santo Serafin] “…voluntarily declares that he renounces the profession of Mercer, not wishing any longer to involve himself in the sale of merchandise of the pertinent kind; but, desiring to remain a confrere of the said school [guild], he declares his readiness to pay each year on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin his candle tax of 4 ducats as in the past …”

(“…volontariamente dichiara rinuntiar alla proffessione del Marzer non volendo ingerirci più nella vendita de Merze a quella attinenti et aspettanti; ma desiderando restar Confratello di detta scola dichiara di esser pronto ogn’anno il giorno della Beata Vergine Assunta pagar la sua Luminaria di D 4 come fecce per il passato….”)

Without belaboring the message, Santo renounced the profession of merchant, but he did not promise to quit making violins and throw his tools in the Grand Canal! Santo went on to live for another 31 years

One can read as much in Pios book "Violin and Lute Makers of Venice" on pages 339/340 & 341.

Most other details in your post also hardly differ to his book either, so why the rudeness and Polemic (Pol Pot etc.). It’s a bit like the Greeks saying Merkel is a Nazi, ‘cos she won't give them any more money!

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"The clamour on this Maestronet thread leaves me wondering what and where the “controversy” may be."

The controversy surrounds the subject of instruments labeled 'Michele Deconet'.

Apparently, it is a valid and very much open and debatable question as to whether Michele Deconet actually made some (or even any) instruments, based on both archival findings (subject to interpretation and further study) and surviving instruments which bear Deconet's name but which apparently (again, subject to interpretation and worthy of further study) are dissimilar enough to warrant a thorough re-examination of the issue.

Knowledge of things cultural and historical is not static but rather always evolving - this case is not exempt from that fact, regardless of whatever institutional or financial concerns may or may not be involved.

Kind regards,

Stephen

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Before everyone goes diving headlong deep into the weeds, it would be beneficial to keep the “big picture” questions in mind:

  • What were the guild rules, and were they evenly applied? Was there only one (dominant) guild? How did these guilds affect the organization of shops, and the division of labor between shopkeepers and craftsmen?
  • Could Deconet (or Gobetti), who were not members of guild, have made and SOLD instruments themselves directly to customers in Venice? Elsewhere?
  • Given his extended absences from home and other circumstances, is it likely that Deconet contracted (Venetian or other) craftsmen to make violins for him, inserted his own labels, and sold them elsewhere, rather than making his own?

I think it was Patrick Moynihan who famously stated “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.” Without resorting to loaded phrases like “police state,” “Pol Pot,” etc., from the archives we know there was at least one instance where the guild was rather draconian in enforcing the rules (quoting Sig. Pio):

  • In January of 1728, the custodians of the scuola, passing by the Salizada of San Lio, saw “guitars and other instruments shown in the bottega of said Tauriner”. Once established that they belonged to a “lauter who worked in his home in Salizada S. Lio” an order was issued “to appear in the morning at the scuola with the instruments all stamped (seized) in order to receive the fine as established by the superintendents of the corporation” and “a fine of five ducats must be paid to His Excellency the Bank Director of this Scuola.” The violin maker this document refers to was Andrea Comel, who had to enlist in the Arti dei Marzeri and pay the benintrada to continue his work after having quitted M. Sellas.

It's certainly fair to argue whether this is a representative example of guild enforcement, after all, it's possible that someone just had a grudge against Comel and reported him to the authorities. But this particular example is rather instructive in revealing what the rules are:

  • It's possible for “pure” craftsmen to exist and to make a living in Venice, they just need to be “employed” by a merchant who is an Arte dei Marzeri member who serves as their “authorized” dealer. This shouldn't be so surprising since there is an established system of garzone;
  • It's likely that Arte dei Marzeri had hegemony, or was the least of all other possible evils, because otherwise Comel could have gone to another alternative guild and avoided paying such fines (if such an alternative existed).

We now come to the question raised by Messrs. Rosengard and Reuning: “What about (the counter-example of) Gobetti?”

This very fragment illustrates that Gobetti needed not have his own shop in order to make (or sell, via an intermediary) fiddles. He could have been “employed” by someone. That his fiddle showed up in the inventory of Montagnana's shop implies he was possibly an assistant there. It would certainly be interesting and important to find out if Gobetti had his own shop, but I don't take the Gobetti example as some sort of outlier. Otherwise we end up in the rather untenable position of challenging Montagnana's inventory or Ospedale de Pietà documents.

Mr. Rosengard, I have to admit I've re-read your post several times but in light of the analysis above I am unclear what other points you're trying to make, including Sellas. (Wasn't he a rather respected guitar maker, or am I thinking of a different Sellas?) I can't really discern any differences regarding the presentation of archival facts between you and Sig. Pio, although I can certainly understand that there are differences in interpretation of those facts. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to delineate what you consider to be speculation or theory on the part of Mr. Pio.

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Dear Jacob:

I dedicate my next posting to you with much love and admiration!

Much of the discussion revolves around the merits or weakness of the “Pio doctrine”, at the core of which is a conclusion that Deconet’s work as a traveling violinist somehow precluded him from building a violin.

I would invite anyone seriously interested in the subject to examine the underlying assumptions, as well as the documented facts and the “interpretations” drawn from these facts, which feed the “doctrine.”

First, let’s remember why more than a half century ago the late Paul Rosenbaum began researching Deconet in Venice. It was because there was a credible body of work of Venetian character that was both cohesive and attractive but subject to fraud or misattribution/misdating. Rosenbaum did not create Deconet out of thin air. For his part, Deconet did not create a problem for posterity or leave a deceitful trail.

* * *

Mr. Pio’s Chapter on Deconet appears in his first book, “Violin and Lute Makers of Venice, 1750-1870,” a tome with no bibliography but hundreds of footnotes, most of which refer to archival documents or similar primary sources. It is handicapped by a rough hewn English translation, but even in the original Italian there is no attempt to connect Deconet’s biographical narrative with his production. The contents of the archival documents reveal nothing “controversial”, but are instead used to launch his far flung theories.

Some of the confusion within the current Maestronet debate originates in Mr. Pio’s inability to force Deconet the craftsman into an archetypical (and imaginary) professional itinerary. There are many possible points of inquiry that are neglected or dismissed in the “Pio doctrine” amongst which is the entire treatment of Deconet’s early life. Unfortunately, no one has yet discovered (or publicized) any pertinent information on Deconet’s actions before his first marriage in Venice in January of 1743. For example, we do not know if he came from an artisan background. His time as a soldier cannot account for more than a brief segment of his 30+ years at this stage.

The term “vagrant” is not the correct English term for Deconet’s “profession” or musical activity, though this may just be a liguistic glitch. A more appropriate term would be “ambulant player” or, if the Brits will allow, a “wandering minstrel.” This terminology implies he played outdoors. I hasten to point out that his profession in the documents of January 1743 are noted by the Secretary of the Patriarch of Venice in a context of compliance with religious law. To my knowledge, a “Guild” of minstrels operating under Venetian secular law did not exist. Public recognition is of course important, but a priest in the case of Deconet could not (and probably did not) bestow a professional qualification or title in the same fashion as a Guild officer would.

Proceeding from the unsubstantiated generality that an instrumentalist cannot be anything but, Mr. Pio summarizes his examination of a heterogeneous (and as yet unidentified) set of published photographs of work attributed to Deconet. “Logic” suggests something is amiss, so a blind search ensues (unknown persons are sought for unknown deeds). The next step is to frame the author’s theory about “maker” within a setting of plausible historical references, and thereby connect the ill-defined generality to reality.

Mr. Pio informs us that various “obscure workers” inhabited Venice (p. 46 of the above cited book) with no explanation of how or why someone may have worked there and avoided legal trouble. These “obscure workers” included Martin Lanzinger, Francesco Ongarato and Bernardo Guerra (without archival sources in footnotes 38 and 39). Another of these “obscurities” was Giacomo Codeghin, a “lauter” whose name appears on censuses dating from 1745-50. Codeghin and a certain Domenico Garlato resided near Deconet (p. 49), and the not-so-subtle inference the reader might draw is that these two men were (or may have been) the builders of the instruments bearing Deconet’s name. For unexplained reasons, Deconet is not a candidate for the status of an “obscure” lauter …

At this point Mr. Pio runs into problems: Garlato was not a “lauter” (luthier) but a “carter” (paper maker) who died by 1754. Poor Codeghin died in late November 1751 in parish of San Giovanni in Bragorà, the part of Venice to which Deconet had moved after April of 1747. Meanwhile the lauter Martin Lanzinger died on New Years Day 1752.

Codeghin and Lanzinger, while termed “lauter” in documents, left no identifiable body of work and died before Deconet produced the greater part of his. As for Ongarato, Guerra and Garlato, there is no evidence in Pio’s book, or elsewhere to my knowledge, to establish that they were indeed lauter. Most importantly, none of these five “obscurities” has a demonstrable connection to Deconet.

So much for the phantoms.

On page two of this Maestronet post, Mr. Pio listed (at 30 November 2012 - 12:11 PM) a series of documents regarding Michiel Deconet. I caution Maestronet viewers that the following documents from that list do NOT state a profession for Deconet. (My comments are in squared brackets):

1743, 30 gennaio

1743, 10 novembre

1744, 6 luglio [and the preceding attestations of 26 June 1744]

1745, 9 febbraio

1747, 3 aprile

1749, 17 aprile

1755, 6 giugno [which I read as 6 June 1753…_]

1756, 2 marzo [which I read as 4 April 1756]

1757, 9 giugno

[Another baptismal record of a Deconet child of 3 Jan. 1762, not listed by Mr. Pio]

1780, 6 marzo

For the rest, I can confirm that Mr. Pio has accurately transcribed the content of the original documents and references to Deconet’s profession. The census dated 1745 calls Deconet a “singer” and this would come before Deconet hit his stride as violin maker. Of the remaining documents that give Deconet’s profession, all were prepared by scribes or priests. Deconet was a “player,” a “violin player” and, by inference, a “violin teacher.” But do these facts respond to the question of whether or not Deconet made a bowed instrument, especially in light of how often Deconet’s profession is omitted in contemporary documents?

The registers of San Giovanni in Bragora, the parish where Deconet was based for much of his adult life, are very large manuscript volumes which contain literally many thousands of birth, death and marriage records from the second half of the 18th century. Over a few afternoons I read through these books. Can we expect a parish priest to accurately render for posterity the full extent of Deconet’s activites? The same priest might recite 3 - 5 funeral Masses in a single day, perform a half dozen weddings in another week, all the while keeping an eye on his numerous flock and delivering weekly sermons. With all possible respect, such a priest burdened by enormous responsibility is not going to furnish us with the solution to a riddle regarding a label in a violin. (Let me offer one of many possible comparisons: during the 33+ years Pietro Guarneri lived in the parish of San Lio the priest never once noted Pietro’s trade or profession)

Furthermore, when Deconet appeared before the Secretary of the Patriarch of Venice to make the attestations of marital freedom (in 1743, 1744, 1764, 1771, and 1780) for himself or his children, the scope of his testimony accounts for the subject’s martial eligibility and chronology of movements into or out of Venice. I disagree with Mr. Pio on the valence to attach to these testimonies; the purpose of the questions (given in Latin abbreviations) that were posed to the witnesses was not to elicit exhaustive descriptions of their daily activites. The witness answers explain, usually succintly, the reasons for an absence from Venice at one time or another. The brevity of many of the transcribed answers – sometimes a single sentence - shows that the questioners were not probing all aspects of a witness’ life.

Unfortunately, we will probably never learn the true extent of Deconet’s colorful biography, since about the only time minstrels appear in old documents is when they run afoul of the law! Even so, I would not presume Deconet was on the road 52 weeks each year. Though he did travel a lot, there were surely some periods when such work tapered off, whether it was in the worst part of winter, during the “acqua alta” in Venice or the hottest days of summer. Let’s also not forget that Deconet lived to a ripe age (the death record states he was 88), and thus a craftsman working over appromately 40-45 years at a leisurely pace was in a position to make a few dozen instruments.

Perhaps the fearful and unspoken “secret” is that Deconet made instruments outside the tortuous commercial matrix that Mr. Pio constructs. Until he can furnish evidence connecting Deconet to a “legitimate” craftsman this is a far more rationale approach that mystifying the subject with notions of Deconet selling works of dead men.

I think we can save some effort by noting that Mr. Pio makes an important point, which may be considered his confession: Deconet is poorly served in published literature. I would surmise that somewhere in Mr. Pio’s experience is the nightmarish “Venetian School” book by the notorious (and discredited) “Swiss experts”; this volume is saturated with strange fakes. The books by Aloys Greither and Stefano Toffolo, though well intentioned, contain acritical compilations of instrument illustrations that do more to hinder than aid the serious student of Venetian organology. I was relieved to read Mr. Pio’s recent Maestronet postings in which he admitted to having limited experience with Deconet the craftsman. Up to the present, blogging included, it is not clear to me if he has put his eyes directly on any Deconet instrument.

Referring to “Deconet instruments” Mr. Pio quotes himself: “huge stylistic differences still persist, both in form and workmanship, with great range in the quality of execution, revealing the hand of different authors” (Posted 30 November 2012 - 12:11 PM). Such a meaningless generality could be equally applied to Antonio Stradivari, Nicolò Amati and GB Guadagnini, to name just a few. In former times, variants of these remarks were often used by writers and dealers with no awareness or concern for historical facts to explain that Amati “worked until 1720”, that there were “2 or 3” makers called GB Guadagnini overlapping one another throughout the 18th century, that there were two Carlo Tononi, etc., etc. The “style” argument can also leave plenty of room for admitting fakes, of course.

Along with Chris Reuning, I would not characterize Deconet’s authentic work as so erratic or varied. If the metric “huge” is applied to Deconet’s true stylistic range, there is probably not enough hyperbole in any language to encompass Matteo Goffriller’s production.

Perhaps Mr. Pio is capable of determining which instrument is or is not made by Deconet, or made for Deconet, or sold by Deconet, etc. Whichever the case, by illustrating just one instrument in his first book, and one that was known as the work of Deconet long before he took up a pen, the author missed his chance to demonstrate his torrid theories in all of their implications.

Deconet was the most prolific maker in Venice during the second half of the 18th century, which is partly attributable his longevity. But by comparison Deconet was not nearly as productive as contemporaries in Northern Italy like GB Guadagnini, Lorenzo Storioni, or Pietro Giovanni Mantegazza. If Pio has evidence supporting his claim (presented as factual certainty) that Charles Beare is wrong in his affirmation, I think Maestronet readers would be delighted to know what that evidence is. Preposterous statements like : “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”, presume that Deconet posed as Serafin’s “competitor”. Like many of the peculiar statements sprinkled throughout his books, this one pretends knowledge of the Serafin workshop production (otherwise undisclosed) and Deconet’s commercial strategy (also undisclosed)! Attention grabbing rhetoric like this is not based on the study of archival documents or instruments by (or attributed to) either maker.

Deconet should not be used as a prop for complex conspiracy theories that betray a shallow knowledge of a most difficult topic: criticism and evaulation of the instruments themselves! The “predicament” to which my old friend and collaborator Stewart Pollens refers (oddly enough in the Doring “Guadagnini” reprint) is quite avoidable if the dealer-expert a) takes the time to become familiar with the instruments in question and B) does not get bamboozled by a frothy cocktail of fantasy and unsubstantiated claims.

Saluti a tutti!

Duane

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That`s the Rosengard doctrine is it?

I had a couple of things to quible about in Pios books too, which I did with a freindly and polite personal email. I recieved an equally freindly and polite email back from Mr Pio (who I do not know personally or commercially). This begs the question why you adress these details to me rather than to him, and that in such an agressive polemic manner. I am not in a position to judge what you say, since it is not my main area of expertize and I could find it plausable or not. Mr Pio has told us he would be happy to engage in a civilised debate, I doubt that he will have interest in a rabid fight. Are we all inocent bystanders of some bitter feud that has infinatly greater proportions than he subject itself?

I find it mean to criticize that this or that detail could not be found, since we both know that one can sometimes can spend days searching archives without finding anything, just as you have yet to find a document describing Deconet as a maker rather than a player/singer nor pertaining to any occupational career as a craftsman. Neither does the “police state” quip make any sense to me, particulary as similar strict restrictions were enforced here (some until quite recently), which one can just as well see as a baroque social system, which assured, for instance the welfare of widdows and orphans (Saunders doctrine?).

If you would have liked a better bibliography, then I would have liked a better index. You write better English than him, but one should have the grace to acknowledge that it isn`t his native language (or gradually, mine).

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Thanks to Duane for surfacing with his exhaustive analysis. However, I get the deep feeling that this issue is going around in circles getting more knotty and harder to follow each time, partly because of the length of this thread and because it is attempting to deal with several distinctly different (if also closely related) issues at once.

1) Duane Rosengard's posts have established evidence which shows that there were other people who made violins in eighteenth-century Venice, who were not a "lauter". Deconet is not a unique case, and in the eighteenth-century the guilds did not have the level of control that we think that they had.

2) There is an implicit agreement between the Rosengard/Reuning camp AND the Pio camp that instruments containing genuine Deconet labels represent a comprehensible body of work. R/R state that this is a single body of work showing development over time (as comparable to Strad, Guad, Goffriller, etc.) as evidenced by the 40-or-so instruments that they have examined and accepted as genuine. Pio, believing that Deconet could not have made these instruments, associates them either with established Venetian workshops (i.e. Giorgio Sellas) or simultaneously (without contradiction) that Deconet labelled instruments represent the work of documented makers, whose individual hand is unknown (i.e. Comel). Only an open-handed physical study of these instruments will resolve this.

3) There has been a constant undertone throughout this thread that connoisseurship by previous generations has led to many wrong attributions to Deconet (Greither & Toffolo for example). It seems that he has been used by dealers of the past as a catch-all attribution for Venetian instruments that fall outside of the box of the major names and archetypes. This adds to the considerable torture of the debate. A quirky Montagnana with an unauthentic Deconet label in it now and long standing attribution from experts of their day might have been upgraded as Cremonese in the nineteenth-century, rejected as such and downgraded to a Deconet in the twentieth-century, allowing it plenty of time to collect a few choice certificates along the way.

4) Although Maestronet may be a useful place for the rhetorical debates about "whether Deconet was a maker or not", it serves no purpose in identifying and making a comprehensible study of what these instruments are. Perhaps the much fetted Beare book on Venetian makers will serve this purpose. But perhaps the conditions exist and the time will be ripe for an exhibition of his work (at a forthcoming VSA perhaps), so that we may inspect these and understand them better. If we try to resolve connoisseurship details by internet forum, no one will ever be satisfied and murder might happen!

5) Ultimately this is a very good example and a superb lesson for all of us about how to reconcile archival evidence with the physical evidence of the instruments themselves. With the passing of time one set of evidence may seem to contradict another, but when these problems appear, it is the responsibility of the scholar to dig deeper into how they can be resolved rather than applying prejudice and dismissing one body of evidence against another.

I am trying to be as brief and concise as is earthly possible given that this is post #172, and as fair to all sides as I can possibly be. I hope this is an accurate reflection. (I know that for brevity, I am skipping over one or two issues that may be close to people's hearts).

For anyone interested in dealing with conflicting evidence - either scholarly or connoisseurly - I wholeheartedly recommend Norman Dixon's book "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence". It should have pride of place on any violin dealer's shelf.

Best regards

Ben

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Thanks to Duane for surfacing with his exhaustive analysis. However, I get the deep feeling that this issue is going around in circles getting more knotty and harder to follow each time, partly because of the length of this thread and because it is attempting to deal with several distinctly different (if also closely related) issues at once.

1) Duane Rosengard's posts have established evidence which shows that there were other people who made violins in eighteenth-century Venice, who were not a "lauter". Deconet is not a unique case, and in the eighteenth-century the guilds did not have the level of control that we think that they had.

Without resorting to loaded language, I don't think Mr. Rosengard has established this at all. Sig. Pio can speak for himself, but I certainly don't think he's arguing that only people contemporaneously identified as lauters could make fiddles in Venice, or that makers could not had some other concurrent or prior profession. Rather Mr. Rosengard has not addressed the very legitimate issue of the Venetian distribution channel, given archival evidence, a bit ironic since he accuses Sig. Pio of ignoring Deconet's commercial strategy while he himself has not presented a coherent narrative on that front.

It would just be plain good form in an online debate to avoid invoking Godwin's Law or making references to totalitarian forms of government.

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Dear Sig. Pio,

I am sorry to be slow answering this question that you posed, but here it is:

You wrote:

>>I have at this moment under my eyes four Deconet cellos: one (1764) is illustrated in book “Les violons: Venetian instruments, paintings & drawngs, Paris 1995 ” with Beare/ Vatelot etc. approval, the second (1783) (Sotheby’s, London 23 Nov. 1988 ) is with Wurlitzer certificate, the third one (1754) is with Hill letter ( Sotheby’s, London 5 Nov. 1996) and the fourth ( Sotheby’s, London 16 June 1998) is with Hill and Hjorth certificate. You can see all these cellos in Cozio web site also.

I would like to hear from experts, if these 4 cellos can be ascribed to the same author and if they can be considered the work of “a regular maker who progressed gradually, but whose instruments all hang together very well”. According to my opinion, they have nothing in common to share. >>

For me, the 1st one "Paris expo" (28 1/ 8")is a good example of the maker and shares many features with the 2nd "Sotheby's 1988" (27 31/32"). The "Paris expo" differs from the "Sothebys 1988" primarily in it's edgework (which is heavier and accordingly results in a slightly bigger cello) and the soundholes...two characteristics that vary as well in the violins. The third, "Sotheby's 1996 was sold by Sotheby's merely as "attributed" to Deconet and has a Hill certificate from 1954. This is big (29 11/16") and I would not rely on this cello! The 4th, "Sotheby's 1998" is very unusual and fine and also large at 29". I agree that it shares many characteristics with Montagnana and would add that it shares similarities also with Busan. For me, this last cello would need closer examination to determine if it has an original label (I think it does not from my memory of examining it). I'd also add that the head is not original. I would suggest putting that cello aside for now.

I would add two more small cellos to the mix: One is the ex Krasner 1749 cello with original label that is a real twin to the "Sotheby's 1988". It measures 27 31/32" . The other is the 176? Deconet "Barton Frank" at 27 15/16" sold by Rembert Wurlitzer that also perfectly conforms to the "Krasner" and "Sotheby's 1988".

Finally, I would add the cello sold at Bonhams in Nov 2000. This instrument is built on a larger form (29 1/8") and therefore has a different outline. Nevertheless, the workmanship characteristics are unmistakably the same as the other 4.

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Without resorting to loaded language, I don't think Mr. Rosengard has established this at all. Sig. Pio can speak for himself, but I certainly don't think he's arguing that only people contemporaneously identified as lauters could make fiddles in Venice, or that makers could not had some other concurrent or prior profession. Rather Mr. Rosengard has not addressed the very legitimate issue of the Venetian distribution channel, given archival evidence, a bit ironic since he accuses Sig. Pio of ignoring Deconet's commercial strategy while he himself has not presented a coherent narrative on that front.

It would just be plain good form in an online debate to avoid invoking Godwin's Law or making references to totalitarian forms of government.

Flyboy,

Precisely Pio's original argument was that as a "Sondare", he was not a "lauter" and could not have made the instruments that bare his name. With all due respect, your post is dealt with within this thread, but by dredging up these points yet again, and provoking further responses, you are pretty close to trolling.

Since Godwin's law is about one thing only, I think by citing Godwin's Law, you are - by definition, inciting it yourself! More pertinently, if you think we are at that point, it means that this discussion has passed its usefulness.

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