Serious question about Del Gesu

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I need to find a way to force my hands to make the scroll and purfling corners, which I find most repulsive on dG violins. ..  :)



...maybe this would help


post-60277-0-63956300-1420891140_thumb.jpg post-60277-0-35946300-1420891196_thumb.jpg


...I know this is a serious question but couldn't resist, hope you don't mind, sooorry :rolleyes:  


PS. How was a concert?. 

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I'd like to tread carefully here. I think that there could be a sense in this thread (my previous post advocates this to an extent) that del Gesu only becomes an important maker out of Paganiniania, and if it hadn't been for his championing of del Gesu, he might not be as famous - and his transgressions might not be so forgiven. I think that it's worth taking into context that Stradivari's violins had an uncomfortable position also until the 1780s or so with Viotti, with most musicians who were wealthy enough to own Cremonese violins plumping for Amatis as their preference. As a result there is little surprise that del Gesu was "under appreciated" until Paganini goes with them. 


I had a violin in my hands in pieces the other day visiting a restorer (can't say who). Just looking at the back, it didn't take more than a few seconds to be confident that it was a great, great Cremonese violin, and because of one or two obvious things, it didn't take long to narrow it down to being del Gesu. That's the experience that I've had on the five or six times when I have been handed a violin without being told what it was, that is a del Gesu. With all my better experience of more common Strads, Amatis, etc., and also with all my experience of seeing Milanese violins that are often quite close to del Gesu here and there in the minor details - nevertheless, it's that sense that everything you have studied in fine Cremonese work is present as the fundamental underpinning of del Gesu's work, in a way that non-Cremonese makers don't achieve. Where del Gesu deviates - for example, that awfully "butch" edge work on the Lord Wilton or the Alard, it's a point of interest, before it becomes a point of criticism. And especially so, when you begin to compare it with other Cremonese traits - it's not so completely oddball, if you put Peter of Mantua into the mix - it informs a narrative. I think that's why you begin to look beyond the obviously rough - much like the mud in the eye fable. 


I do, however, think there is a profound problem with del Gesu - the instruments are infinitely scarce, not just because of the low number, but because we just don't get to see them very often. In turn, we become accustomed to the del Gesu idea through a 19th century legacy of almost always inaccurate copies of his work, and without seeing more than photos, the majority of modern makers seem to produce violins that use roughed up Strads  and assumptions based on Stradivari as a starting point, without having any means for understanding the fundamentally different starting points. There is certainly a del Gesu pastiche that is particular to the last 20 or so years, and its uncommon to find a maker who really "gets it". 


Hopefully this will change. But getting back to the 19th century. Its Stradivari who "made" del Gesu a great violin maker, not Paganini. I think that as soon as Stradivari's became sought after, the idea that del Gesu would follow was an inevitability. 

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One good way to remove mud from your eyes is with a wire brush and disinfectant. Otherwise try doing it like I did. I had a lot of mud in my eyes when I started. I just could not see the attraction of Del Gesu's work. Perhaps I was conditioned by the 20th centuries obsession with accuracy, especially with regard to mechanical objects. Whatever the reason, rather like you, I considered Del Gesu's work sloppy and ill conceived. However, unlike you I was never brave enough to admitted to such feelings.

I know from your many posts that you are a genuine and intelligent enthusiast. So now that Melvin, Conor and others have paved the way, all you have to do is get out there and look and listen. If you do this often enough I promise it will come. The key is understanding Del Gesu is to see him as one of the last of the great Cremonese makers. One who has a direct link to the Amati/Stradivari tradition and all the accumulated knowledge and experience that this school accrued. The appearance of his work may have been the result of one or more factors, including the collapse of the Cremonese economy, increasing competition from abroad, war in and around the Po valley, and possible ill health. I think it unlikely that he chose a deliberate 'impressionist' route, but weather by accident necessity or design, it is important to remember that a degree of 'roughness' in both the audio and visual arts is often considered a thing of great beauty. I am sure that you do not need me or anyone else to provide examples.

Ben just posted more words of wisdom as I was struggling to find something to write.

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Everyone has their own value scale for precise workmanship and artistic creativity.  Del Gesu seems to have pushed both to extremes, in opposite directions, so it is no wonder there is a polarization of opinions.


I do find myself looking at photos of various dG violins, and find them visually interesting in a way that Strads are not (Strads are fine... but a bit boring after a while).  


However, some of them late scrolls could be used as evidence that del Gesu invented the chanisaw.  That's a bit beyond my comfort zone for workmanship (says he who recently hacked out a hasty daSalo scroll and used it on a viola).

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If we would talk about sound and how they perform I can understand, but copy "sloppy" work?  :huh:

Or am I not artist enough 

It's a very good point that, for whatever reasons, dG could be sloppy.  And would not win an award at the VSA, if he just came out of the woodwork, so to speak (of course depending on the particular violin).  But your OP and thread makes us start to think:  Just how important is flawless work?  Most aficionados of the violin seem to come around to thinking "perfect" work is sterile work.  Any idiot can learn to put in near-flawless purfling;  it's factory work.


I wouldn't question your artistry, if I were you.  And we all make the way we want to and as well as we can with our vision of what is beautiful.  It's up to others to decide how well we succeed.


When I first saw a picture of the "DeBeriot" I actually started laughing.  The Fs were down right comical, much more than the "Ole Bull."  But what the heck!  And does it really make a bit of difference that he sometimes broke and stuffed the purfling into the channels? Not in the greater scheme of things.


Why do violins have to be perfect by some standard that will win an award at a competition?  They don't, and can be charming and lovely in their own right, and even better and wear better to the eye over the years.  I actually rather hope that just as Jackson Pollock freed artists, conversations like on your good thread might free violin makers.

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Steve, I think this is one of the fundamental mysteries of del Gesu. Actually it's why I like the comparison of Impressionist painters, because it really is extraordinarily rare to find this combination of a high art form with this contradictory aesthetic. When we get to the wild late-period scrolls, none of us understand why he took things to the levels he did - but maybe naively I am reluctant to think there is an irrational reason for anything he did - just a rationality that we can't engage in given what we think we know today. I don't even think that illness acts as an excuse for this particular kind of behaviour. 


What I find so very difficult is to try to get an idea of the values that del Gesu was applying to violin making, and then to try to find other objects that correspond with the same ideologies. You could - with limited success - equate it to the architectural idea of rustication as it comes through Vitruvian and Palladian ideas. You certainly get rustication all over Cremonese buildings from the 14th century on... (although it tends to be the better ordered varieties, diamond point, etc, which weakens my argument, the better examples are elsewhere). However, I think that the Trevi Fountain in Rome (1629) is to architecture what del Gesu is to violin making). 



Trevi fountain - the rustication of the bedrock of the fountain is as much a juxtaposition with the ordered classical architecture in the Palazzo behind, as perhaps the Ole Bull is to the Messiah... 



One could even argue - probably unconvincingly - for a likeness between del Gesu's work and the elements of style that formed Rococo which was at its high point in the 1730s: exactly simultaneously. Although I think del Gesu would have had to have a highly internalised idea of what he was going for if this was his aim.For the record, I am not convinced of that suggestion, although I'm not totally sure its completely wrong and there may be a vague element of truth to it.


Michele Todini's harpsichord, Rome, c.1675. Masterpiece of asymmetry. 




The most obvious precedent for del Gesu in my mind though is El Greco 150 years earlier... again someone who we can explain in the 21st century as being proto-impressionist - and even someone that the impressionists looked to for inspiration.


My favourite El Greco. 


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One of my life-long friends is a retired art teacher. She is the reason for this part of my website:


I used to visit her very regularly in the 1970's and 80's when we were both active teachers. On one wall of her living room was a print of "Guernica", which for several years I had believed to be a pastiche created by one of her primary school art classes. When I eventually found out what I had been looking at all along, it shook me out of my complacent ignorance about art. I think that humbling experience stood me in good stead when I stumbled into violin-making, and perhaps helped me appreciate the handiwork of del Gesu sooner than might have been the case otherwise. To put it very clumsily, "beauty" (for want of a better term) isn't skin-deep.

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"Don't pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to make it through a difficult one."


I feel that economic factors and the psychological effects of poverty vs wealth can attribute to working methods and give clues as to why things are what they are.


There but a few great makers, when compared to the entire body of builders that have been, that have been both financially successful as well as artistically successful. Selling art/tools, is not making art/tools. However one who does sell their art, can start to find themselves at an advantage to one who does not. The business "happiness" level, as well as your life outside of making can be dramatically effected by the choice benefits monetary success can bring. One of the more "pleasing" things about being a successful "business" is employees. Employees allow you to be directive with which task you do or do not do, often times more mundane time consuming tasks can be done by employess, thus freeing you to do the stuff that matters. I feel Strad had a pretty good thing going with some quality help that allowed him to really put his time into details himself.


Wheras Del Gesu probably didn't have it so good, probably had his wife help him out. I think to be able to think like a starving artist, one has to be or atleast lived as a starving artist in order to "see" or "feel" the day to day reality.  We also may be dealing with some "rich dad, poor dad" realities related to the over all level of nepotism creating a more stable childhood, which often times helps with success later in life.


At any rate I see Del Gesus "progression" as something like this; started out young, had lots of hope, got real good by his 20's, but had either personality, emotional issues, or perhaps very bad with being responsible with money, that impeded his ability to become financially successful, by not being able to incrementally increase his sales,. He peaked in his late 20's/30's, and by that time chronic despair related to his financial realities started to kick in which starts the mentality of {**** it!} . Probably still driven by the love of making, yet dealing with the realities of "it" just not working out for him, that a certain "who cares, no ones gonna buy this crap anyway" starts to kick in. Let alone he may have started to develop health issues that made him feel time was short and that he better just bang it out a get them done as a whole to have more built, rather than fewer that were "perfect"

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I need to find a way to force my hands to make the scroll and purfling corners, which I find most repulsive on dG violins. Maybe with some mental training (or age) it will come naturally :)


How about mix-and-match. 


While you are torturing yourself needlessly, consider that Kemp-like F holes on a Kreisler-like body with a Milanollo-like scroll looks inoffensive.

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What is the total number of dGs?  I used to hear 150, and lately I've heard there are more.



Depends if you count the ones that the Americans have “promoted” from Joseph fil.


Yes, there seems to be a disagreement on how to attribute violins from the Guarneri shop in the 1710s.  Charles Beare and the Hills take a more conservative approach to assigning those fiddles to del Gesu than Americans do:


From "Guarneri 'del Gesu's Place in Cremones Violin-making," Charles Beare, in Joseph Guarnerius "del Gesu," Cremona 1995, advisors Charles Beare, Bruce Carlson, Andrea Mosconi, 1995, page 22, Beare is discussing the "narrow-waisted" violins that came from the Guarneri shop in the late 1710s:

"Traditionally W.E. Hill and Sons always certified this type of violin as the work of the father [Joseph filius Andrea], sometimes adding that the son [del Gesu] may have participated in their construction. In the United State they have always been certified as Guarneri del Gesu, as have a number of instruments of the 1715 period which I personally feel must be predominantly the work of Joseph filius..."


Concerning the number of existing del Gesus, Robert Bein some years back in a VSA publication gave the number in the 140s, not as high as 150.


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I think the first time I was made aware of this (around 2006) it concerned a valuation from a certain gentleman in another country that begins with A... Typically, the instrument had been sold at auction for somewhere around £250,000 as a well established Filius with the hand of the young del Gesu, only a couple of years before but had been triumphantly valued at something crazy like 6million Euros as an early del Gesu showing the hand of the father... Attributions have vacillated from one idea to another. For certain Emil Hermann spent a lot of time turning Filius's into del Gesu's, but then half a century went by with these degraded to filius, and now they seem to be making their way back. 


I think this has come again and again on Maestronet. I think the point is constantly is raised is that you can't expect a big-fat violin of filius' model to be worth anything like a golden-period del Gesu, even if it can be shown that del Gesu made it in it's entirety - just as we don't value 1670s Amatise Strads at anywhere near the same price point as one of 1716!


Eric's red coats comment is much closer to the bone than is immediately apparent. The Hills were extraordinarily emphatic about not attributing things to del Gesu, even when they felt that his hand significantly influenced the model as well as the appearance. Hence their self-consciously conservative view of the Messeas cello, which is one case where their reserved judgement is probably better overruled. 

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No one has brought up a point that has sometimes crossed my mind about Del Gesu. Who were his clients, and what were they wanting to buy? If there are 140 or so violins remaining, and he wasn't considered a top drawer maker for some 90 years after his death, his violins probably suffered greater attrition than Strads and Amatis. He must have made a fair number of violins during his lifetime, as when one looks at contemporaries of Del Gesu, how many come close to that number of surviving violins? Maybe the Testores or Nicolo and Gennaro Gagliano?


It's often been said that the influence of Brescian violins led Stradivari to develop the long pattern, with its wider, flatter arch, which in turn led to the "golden pattern." Of course, Strad kept to an Amati-ish standard of craftsmanship. It's become accepted that Rogeri made out and out copies of Magginis, though with a "Cremonese" standard of craftsmanship which Maggini never really reached himself. It's always been said that Del Gesu took inspiration from the Brescians as his f-holes got longer and pointier, his arching grew wider and fuller and his c-bouts rounder. What if in his last period Del Gesu wasn't going blind or being lazy, but was going after more of the spontaneous freedom of the Brescian instruments which were inspiring him? Obviously, his clentele were satisfied since they kept buying his instruments. Maybe his violins had an appeal as "distressed" or "antiqued" new violins for players who found his neighbours the Strad sons' and Bergonzi's violins too neat and "new" looking?

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Now I'm sure it is the scroll... sorry I mean the sound.


We sat on the second row (first row was empty) 3 m from the violin. The violin was way darker than the images showed here:


The sound  "bubbled" out of the violin dark and mellow with focused high end. Very, very pleasant


Recorded with Ipad nothing like in reality though:

Terminator DG.mp3


Great event 


Good night



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No one has brought up a point that has sometimes crossed my mind about Del Gesu. Who were his clients, and what were they wanting to buy? If there are 140 or so violins remaining, and he wasn't considered a top drawer maker for some 90 years after his death, his violins probably suffered greater attrition than Strads and Amatis. He must have made a fair number of violins during his lifetime, as when one looks at contemporaries of Del Gesu, how many come close to that number of surviving violins? Maybe the Testores or Nicolo and Gennaro Gagliano?




Some years back I raised the question on Maestronet of why the survival rate for del Gesus would be fairly high given that del Gesu's customers weren't among the wealthy aristocrats which Strad had.  One reply -- I believe it was from Michael Darnton -- was that del Gesu plates were originally considerably thicker than Strad's (witness the Cannon), and thus weren't as fragile.  The thicker plates compensated for any reduction in care.

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