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Barak Norman Viola

Giovanni Valentini

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1 hour ago, Mark Norfleet said:

Fascinating.  I didn't know he made anything other than viols.  Thanks!


Yeah, he spanned the transition period and started making at least some violin family instruments towards the end of his working life.

I had a cello by him in the shop a year or so ago but not in the condition of this instrument.


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35 minutes ago, Mark Norfleet said:

All of the Norman viols I've seen have had flat backs.  I don't know of any English viols that had carved backs, and only a few makers of them from other areas.


That's probably why some of the purfling decoration has disappeared whilst scraping, attempting to give it some arching. 

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2 hours ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

That's probably why some of the purfling decoration has disappeared whilst scraping, attempting to give it some arching. 

Perhaps, and it’s hard to tell as there are not a lot of reflections in the picture of the back, but it seems to have much more arching than the thickness of any English viol back I’ve seen would allow for.

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2 hours ago, chiaroscuro_violins said:

Why would one go to the trouble of converting a viol to a viola, when one could surely save time by simply building a viola?  Then you can have a viol AND a viola?  I just don't get it...  :wacko:

There are quite a number of old instruments that have been made into violas of various sizes.  There are som converted Linarol instruments that have been cut down (They were Lyras).  I think what happened here was you had old viols or old viol parts that were taking up room in a shop and pretty much not gong to sell.  The folks at the shop used them for raw material to make something they thought would sell. I'd say most of the big tenor violas wound up like this too.  These are just examples of more extreme conversion or utilization of odds and ends lying around the shop.


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3 hours ago, mood2000 said:

Alemannic made 



Die alemannische Schule

The Alemannic School .jpg

For the risk of being burnt as a heretic that's my first association, too, when seeing this type of re-constructed instruments.

The features not going together well with the Alemmanische, like the inlaid signature or ff, are they original for sure?

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Wow, thanks for all these comments!

As my number of daily posts is limited, I bundle the answers to various questions together into one:

1) The back is carved and, I would say, always has been - at least I can't see how a flat viol back could be converted into this: 




2) The table is of two parts, but not bookmatched:



3) There was once a thread about a Hardie arrangement. That instrument shows that the decorations dont match properly. This is not the case here - they are perfectly in proportion and match everywhere. Unless they were entirely added later, I don't think the viola could be made of parts from a larger instrument.


4) Re. Norman's violin family instruments: Ben Hebbert in his 2001 catalogue in GSJ  mentions five violas one of which he considers wrongly attributed and one Norman arranged from an older viol. He also counts ca 10 violins, 14 bass violins and one cello.


5) The decorations on front and back seem to be done using the same technique, i.e. a mixture of purfling and painting. With the purfling I am not entirely sure, but I suspect that the dark strips are some sort of filler rather than wood. The painted sections have partly worn off. The criss-cross lines on the table are - I think  - pen-drawn. The round vignette with the name is inserted with a brand stamp. Here are some close-ups:







And here are the drawings of the decorations from Ben Hebbert's catalogue:

Monogramme on the back:


Tulip on the table:




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4 hours ago, Giovanni Valentini said:



It seems clear to me that the purfling disappearing at the sides is a sign that the arching was created on the present instrument from a flatter pieces, probably using several techniques.  Look at your edges, where the original pieces have been somehow fitted to new edging.   I know the Hardie viola pictured above from an earlier 2014 post inside out (in Rattray's book) whose back was in several flat staves, bent and glued with angled joints to create an "arching" of sorts, then the whole thing cut to shape, somehow flattened and glued on onto a base.  Quite crazy sort of work, but amazingly, one of the best sounding violas around! 

By the way, the front of that viola was in ( at least) 4 main pieces, with baffling architecture, including a lovely flat joint right across the top of the sound-holes. That not counting the pieces forming the edges. Altogether quite crazy sort of work, but amazingly, one of the best sounding violas around! 


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