How did a reddish violin look when new in the 1690 - 1785 era - Cremona?


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I can't remember who (I think it was one of the guest instructors at Joe Robson's varnish workshop - Chris Reuning and other very knowledgeable people stop by from time to time) brought up how instruments made by notable copyists to some extent provide a window into the past through which we can see what the original's varnish looked like at that time.

 

Good point! When I visited the cite de la musique in Paris, I found it interesting that the Lupots looked much redder than any Cremonese instrument in the exhibition...

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You're sure this isn't a "photo-oxidation" reaction?

David,

Well the cook should not mess with chemical terms.  I think in the case of UV reactions photo-oxidation is correct...if that means that the reaction is catalyzed by light to induce auto-oxidation. UV catalyzes the auto-oxidation of the resinous components of the spruce.  

The reaction in the maple has never been made clear, as far as I know.  In the case of visible light reacting with the hemi-cellulose I can't find any reference to auto-oxidation, though perhaps the chemists among us can clarify. 

My reference to oxidation and the varnish film relates to oxidation in the sense of reacting with atmospheric oxygen. 

And yes, I think the ability of the film to take surface polishing, the stability over time [not a reference to wearing properties], the way the film fractures under stress [stress induced both by blunt force trauma or adhesion failure] all indicate that the Cremonese varnish began with a properly formed varnish film.

An interesting feature here is that the violin world remained with the early ...Amati?... varnish.  The understanding of how to fuse the various copals and amber were exploding throughout Europe at the time. From furniture varnish to coach varnish the wealthy were insisting on these new, high polish, hard and durable finishes.  Case in point, Charles Martin was made varnisher to the French court circa 1725 because of the formulation of a copal/amber varnish.

 

PeterKG,

As far as I know atmospheric water does not play a part in this process.

 

on we go,

Joe

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I wonder whether there is an intermediate step in tanning wood with UV. Namely, does the energetic photon create on the wood surface an oxide of nitrogen that in turn reacts with the lignin? My observations of tanned wood lead me to believe that the tan is caused by something like nitric oxide or nitrogen dioxide. An interesting experiment would be to put the wood in an inert atmosphere of, say, helium while exposing it to UV.  If anyone can point me to some useful literature on the subject, I would be most obliged.

 

Linseed oil is a different matter. Just consider the different conditions/mechanisms that cause it to solidify.

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Carlo,

 

I love your discussion of cultural perceptions of color. Last year during a trip to Thailand I noticed on the local train how people going to work in the Bangkok dressed in very vivid colors. I thought they looked great. A month later I was in a NY subway going to the MondoMusica  fair and noticed that everyone was in black and grey. I was the most colorful person in my bluejeans!  :lol:

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I agree that the evidence in paintings suggests that a lighter 'golden' looking finish was in fashion for a long stretch of time.

 

Nevertheless, early Brescia and early Cremona did make darkly finished instruments.   The fashion for light colored finishes seem to fade in Cremona in the early 18th century, and then intensify again in later more commercial Italian making in Naples, etc.

 

 

post-30802-0-51979900-1392923005_thumb.jpg

 

https://tarisio.com/wp/2010/04/

 

Some Maggini varnish looks reddish, in a brown sort of way, and in the right lighting.  :mellow:

 

It seems to me that the darker finishes are mostly achieved by adding an additional layer of more intense color over an under finish of a lighter more glowing color.  So in this sense, almost all the instruments share a largely similar under finish.  Then in the lighter fashion, the second more colored layer is simply omitted.  I suspect that in the 17th century the light color was cultivated as an aesthetic choice.  But that in later making is was at least partly a matter of saving the cost and effort of adding the extra color.

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I do not know what you violin experts think of the exactness of  old master painters in such things, but I would expect that if we find a 17th or 18th century painting depicting a reddish violin or viol family instrument (Cremonese, of course!) we have rather strong evidence that there were reddish violins and what they looked like. 

 

Until now I only know is there is (much) evidence of golden / light brown violins. I have seen a few depictions of dark brown instruments (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Friedrich_Abel_by_Thomas_Gainsborough.jpg ).  The only thing I can safely conclude is "not all violins were reddish".

 

I am not saying that there are not  paintings with red violins, I just do not know one.

 

 

Thanks for the link; I always like to see some great Brescian instuments.

 

 

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An interesting feature here is that the violin world remained with the early ...Amati?... varnish.  The understanding of how to fuse the various copals and amber were exploding throughout Europe at the time. From furniture varnish to coach varnish the wealthy were insisting on these new, high polish, hard and durable finishes.  Case in point, Charles Martin was made varnisher to the French court circa 1725 because of the formulation of a copal/amber varnish.

Joe,

Has amber been positively excluded as a possible presence within early violin world varnishes?

I am aware of Echard not finding amber but he doesn't explain the basis for his comment.

 

Amber varnish is mentioned in the De Mayerne Manuscript and in a number of old Italian manuscripts.

 

John

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I do not know what you violin experts think of the exactness of  old master painters in such things, but I would expect that if we find a 17th or 18th century painting depicting a reddish violin or viol family instrument (Cremonese, of course!) we have rather strong evidence that there were reddish violins and what they looked like. 

 

Until now I only know is there is (much) evidence of golden / light brown violins. I have seen a few depictions of dark brown instruments (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Friedrich_Abel_by_Thomas_Gainsborough.jpg ).  The only thing I can safely conclude is "not all violins were reddish".

 

I am not saying that there are not  paintings with red violins, I just do not know one.

 

Hard to say whether or not the paintings retained their original colors.

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Earlier art methods often work in layered techniques, and making things look 'golden' was a big deal.  Gilding and various kinds of false gilding were also part of the arts.  Also, building up colors from light to dark was a prevalent concept, contributing to the luminosity of classical art works.  Old writings on art have many prescriptions on how to make things 'golden'.  How to lay a transparent yellow over tin to make a false gold, etc.  Many of the old recipes involve saffron, aloe and/or orpiment.  But many other yellows make appearances, including safflower, buckthorn/French berry, and later Gamboge.  Even gall and gall stones found use imitating gold color.  But real gold is not just yellow, there is often an admixture of red tones in gold.   So the recipes often involve a lessor component of red colorant.  Madder makes a frequent appearance in 'golden' recipes.  For example, separate some egg white.  Let sit for a day or two with a good amount of saffron and a bit of chopped madder soaking  in the egg white.   The egg white will become strongly colored.  Applied to a white substrata you'll get a powerful golden color.  Many other reds can and were used.

 

So, in such a world it would seem natural for instrument makers to generally/frequently approach finishing as 1) build to a golden finish, 2) continue with a further darker color.  Further, reds would already be in the pallet as a minor part of the 'golden' coloring.   Since woods are naturally blonde to golden to brown to reddish brown, this is a natural pallet for finishing also.  Brescian and early Cremona makers seem to go more often to brown instead of reddish brown, but the choice of brown leads naturally to using sienna and umber earths among ones pigments.  Both of these earths were also known in calcined versions, which naturally have smaller pigment size and better behavior in transparent applications.  But these burnt versions also verge more toward the reddish brown.   So I think the basic aim of 'brown' over 'golden' contains the seeds of a reddish aspect.   Then in later Cremona it became fashionable to pump up the red components.

 

In Italy, I think these art principles were rather thoroughly pervasive.  But, when you look to other regions, like Britain, and Germanic areas, their application is much less consistent.  You will more often find instruments that don't build from gold to brown, but are simply brown.  Etc.

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No Reds in the Rijksmuseum.

 

This one looks definitely reddish to me; so now I know more than before. THanks for the link.

Of course it would be interesting to know what the experts think of this violin, (interesting scroll).

 

Incidentally, I would be great to a have a data base of depictions of historical instruments and of musicians playing their instruments.  Does there exist something like that?

 

Hard to say whether or not the paintings retained their original colors.

 

Of course it is possible that the color changes in just one area of a painting (like a change in a certain, sparsely used pigment ) . But  this fact would certainly be known to the conservator-restorer -given the extensive research in that field.

However I think it is much more likely that the color changes of a painting are more global in nature (such as changes in the drying oil binders or in the varnish).

 

For paintings of this period of time we can assume that the color of the  depicted objects were close to their real color ( in the given lighting) and  for many objects it is easy to guess what the original colors were. This should  give us many reference points to estimate the color changes or to determine that significant changes are unlikely.

 

So it should be  possible to make meaningful inferences about the original color of a depicted violin.

 

In a real violin there are no  reference points.

 

So what do you think of the reddish violin in this painting, and how, if at all does all this relate to the original question of this thread?

 

You already know that I am not an expert in anything, just a member of the interested general public. So please correct me if I am wrong.

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Earlier art methods often work in layered techniques, and making things look 'golden' was a big deal.  Gilding and various kinds of false gilding were also part of the arts.  Also, building up colors from light to dark was a prevalent concept, contributing to the luminosity of classical art works.  Old writings on art have many prescriptions on how to make things 'golden'.  How to lay a transparent yellow over tin to make a false gold, etc.  Many of the old recipes involve saffron, aloe and/or orpiment.  But many other yellows make appearances, including safflower, buckthorn/French berry, and later Gamboge.  Even gall and gall stones found use imitating gold color.  But real gold is not just yellow, there is often an admixture of red tones in gold.   So the recipes often involve a lessor component of red colorant.  Madder makes a frequent appearance in 'golden' recipes.  ...

In Italy, I think these art principles were rather thoroughly pervasive.  But, when you look to other regions, like Britain, and Germanic areas, their application is much less consistent.  You will more often find instruments that don't build from gold to brown, but are simply brown.  Etc.

Everything you said was illuminating. Thank you.

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Carlo,

 

I love your discussion of cultural perceptions of color. Last year during a trip to Thailand I noticed on the local train how people going to work in the Bangkok dressed in very vivid colors. I thought they looked great. A month later I was in a NY subway going to the MondoMusica  fair and noticed that everyone was in black and grey. I was the most colorful person in my bluejeans!  :lol:

 

Mike,

I agree.  Carlo brings a "fresh eye" to these discussions.  His comment made think of the de Salo violin we were shown....  1582 [?] and a deeply pigmented red that has survived the centuries in a different way than the translucent reds of Stradivari.  Equally beautiful in their own way.  But certainly that early red informed the line of "taste" into the classic period.

Joe

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Joe,

Has amber been positively excluded as a possible presence within early violin world varnishes?

I am aware of Echard not finding amber but he doesn't explain the basis for his comment.

 

Amber varnish is mentioned in the De Mayerne Manuscript and in a number of old Italian manuscripts.

 

John

 

John,

None of the current examinations: Dr. White, JP Echard, or Brigitte Brandmair's found any evidence of amber.  All found evidence of a pine resin  base.  It is most interesting that they did NOT find amber.  So a choice was made to remain with the traditional formulations rather than the [then current] modern varnishes.

Joe

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John,

None of the current examinations: Dr. White, JP Echard, or Brigitte Brandmair's found any evidence of amber.  All found evidence of a pine resin  base.  It is most interesting that they did NOT find amber.  So a choice was made to remain with the traditional formulations rather than the [then current] modern varnishes.

Joe

 

Joe,

Very briefly, it would seem that the identification of amber (and copal) within varnish films is exceedingly difficult. 

 

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

 

A brief comment on problems in the identification of copal can be seen here  http://www.jamescgroves.com/gellingcopalvarnish.htm under the sub-heading "Detection of copal varnish in the old paint".

 

Echard and others have produced spectra for various resins and I suspect that Echard's comment is based on such spectra as opposed to that that may exist within an oil varnish.  (The spectra will be quite different.) 

 

Based on what I have mentioned and referenced above, I would question whether the analytical techniques mentioned in Brandmair's book would be capable of detecting amber within a varnish film.

 

Certain properties of amber varnishes are interesting and I think that maybe we should be keeping an open mind. 

 

I apologise if this is seen as hijacking this thread.

 

John

 

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Joe,

Very briefly, it would seem that the identification of amber (and copal) within varnish films is exceedingly difficult. 

 

Certain properties of amber varnishes are interesting and I think that maybe we should be keeping an open mind. 

 

John

 

 

John,

I am most willing to keep an open mind on the issue.  As you know amber and I have a long history together.

Joe

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I once read in an old string instrument related journal that the technology to fuse amber into a liquid state wasn't developed until 1777 or thereabout.

JoeG,

Not so.  We do not know how long ago folks figured out how to fuse amber.  However by the beginning of the 18th century it was common knowledge to varnish makers.

Joe

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JoeG,

Not so.  We do not know how long ago folks figured out how to fuse amber.  However by the beginning of the 18th century it was common knowledge to varnish makers.

Joe

So, if I understand correctly, amber was being used by varnish makers by the beginning of the 18th century? And that research hasn't revealed any traces of amber in musical instrument varnishes? Do you have a published reference source, or an online link where I can read up on the subject further?  Thanks, JoeG.

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I agree that the evidence in paintings suggests that a lighter 'golden' looking finish was in fashion for a long stretch of time.

 

Nevertheless, early Brescia and early Cremona did make darkly finished instruments.   The fashion for light colored finishes seem to fade in Cremona in the early 18th century, and then intensify again in later more commercial Italian making in Naples, etc.

 

 

attachicon.gifMaggini from Tarisio Mar2010 Detail_4.jpg

 

https://tarisio.com/wp/2010/04/

 

Some Maggini varnish looks reddish, in a brown sort of way, and in the right lighting.  :mellow:

 

It seems to me that the darker finishes are mostly achieved by adding an additional layer of more intense color over an under finish of a lighter more glowing color.  So in this sense, almost all the instruments share a largely similar under finish.  Then in the lighter fashion, the second more colored layer is simply omitted.  I suspect that in the 17th century the light color was cultivated as an aesthetic choice.  But that in later making is was at least partly a matter of saving the cost and effort of adding the extra color.

I believe the Tarisio auction description stated that dendro tests on the top plate proved this instrument to have been made long after Maggini's life ended, yet maker provenance wasn't established. Has there been a serious attempt to do so?

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I believe the Tarisio auction description stated that dendro tests on the top plate proved this instrument to have been made long after Maggini's life ended, yet maker provenance wasn't established. Has there been a serious attempt to do so?

 

I certainly don't know.  And I don't have the expertise to make such a judgement about authenticity.  Certainly I noticed that the redness seemed a bit outlier for early Brescian work.  But, for example, I think there is also a 'Maggini' bass pictured on Tarisio that has a not much different coloring. 

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