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Tangible and Intangible heritage

Past and present classical Cremonese lutherie

The skill of making refined stringed bowed instruments finds its roots in the Renaissance, but its origin is still a mystery. There are two cities where lutherie is developed at the beginning: Brescia and Cremona. There are a lot of luthiers in Brescia in the XVI century and they mainly make big instruments, such as violas and double basses, and their target is not very demanding. Conversely, in Cremona at the beginning the market is prerogative of only one family, Amati, producing very high quality instruments and that is why they can meet the requests of Italian and foreign courts. The same Caterina de’ Medici, mother of the then young king of France Charles IX, commissions Andrea to make some instruments. Given the importance of the client, no effort is saved and the outcome is five masterpieces designed, made, finished off and decorated with utmost attention and great refinement.

While Andrea Amati defines what a violin is and sets standards valid still today, his sons carry out experiments on instrument tones, thanks to the works performed in very close contact with the musicians of their time. We are in the early Thirties of the XVII century when Nicolò, Andrea’s grandchild, takes over the business of his father and grandfather: the most renowned luthier workshop of the world in a period when the request for new instruments is huge. In addition, in those years the last heirs of the local luthier tradition of Brescia passed away and from then on who is looking for a high quality violin shall inevitably resort to Cremona.

The craft fervour of the XVI century and the high quality of the Cremonese lutherie continues until 1770 ca. with the great families Amati, Bergonzi, Guarneri, and in particular with Antonio Stradivari.

Then the luthier workshops disappear and the work of the great masters is mainly lost. This creates on the one side a void, but also an immediate desire of research: the products of the masters become subject of particular interest to luthiers and musicians, and for merchants too.

The same Paolo Stradivari, Antonio’s last-born, who had not dedicated himself to lutherie, when inherits from his brothers the heritage of their father, makes use of its business potentials, by selling instruments, tools, forms and designs. Most of the collection is purchased around 1775 by the Count Ignazio Cozio di Salabue, the first great expert and collector of music instruments known. He, aware of the extraordinary value of the finds, holds firmly together the collection and studies it with passion. Nevertheless, also in this case, in 1920 his heirs sell the big heritage to the luthier Giuseppe Fiorini from Bologna who, luckily, holds it intact, besides copying successfully Stradivari’s instruments, handing down in this way techniques and methods.