Giovanni Battista Guadagnini

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Giovanni Battista Guadagnini
Born(1711-06-23)23 June 1711
Bilegno in Val Tidone, Italy
Died18 September 1786(1786-09-18) (aged 75)
Turin, Italy
ResidencePiacenza, Milan, Parma and Turin
Known for
Notable work
  • Baron Knoop (1744, Piacenza)
  • Ex-Lorenzo (c.1745, Piacenza)
  • Baron Köhner (1752, Milan)
  • Campoli,Grumiaux (1773, Turin)
  • Salabue (1774, Turin)
  • Guadagnini style
    • Piacenza period
    • Milan period
    • Parma period
    • Turin period
  • Stradivarius style
MovementGuadagnini school[1]
ElectedCourt luthier of Duchy of Parma[2]

Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (often shortened to G. B. Guadagnini; 23 June 1711 – 18 September 1786) was an Italian luthier, regarded as one of the finest craftsmen of string instruments in history.[3] He is widely considered the third greatest maker after Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri "del Gesù". The Guadagnini family was known for their violins, guitars and mandolins.[4]


Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (Latinized as Johannes Baptista Guadagnini) was born while both Stradivari and Guarneri were at the zenith of their production years, roughly 30 km away from the City of Cremona on 23 June 1711 at Bilegno in Val Tidone of Piacenza.[5]

Recent research has shed light as to the influence of both Casa Stradivari and Casa Guarneri of Cremona on the lines of symmetry of instruments by Guadagnini, hence J.B. Guadagnini was still a youth while his father Lorenzo, both in Bilegno and Piacenza, was a contributing maker of instruments for Stradivari's workshop, the leading violin shop in the first half of the 18th century.

It was the normative use of trade in 18th-century Italy for a young person to start as an apprentice in a master's workshop around age 12, to be allowed to practice a given trade afterward. Guild shops, either in consortium or under one roof, were headed by a master who provided journeymen papers for successful apprentices. Trade guilds, providing career opportunities for skilled tradesmen including musical instrument makers, were a mercantile arrangement in Europe since medieval times, including in Italy. Guilds were a pre-capitalist industrial organization under ducal oversight which regulated trade practice, quality of articles produced, and pricing policies.

J.B. Guadagnini died in Turin in 1786.

Violin maker[edit]

His work is divided into four main periods corresponding to, and named after, Piacenza, Milan, Parma and Turin, the four cities in Italy where he lived and worked. Each period has its own style and characteristic. The Guadagnini's Milan style are more popular in Europe while the Turin style is more sought-after in the United States.[5] Because of different arching built for each style, the Milan models make soft and colorful sound, whereas the Turin models sound are flatter and more powerful.[5]

Appreciation by both connoisseurs and musicians alike attest to the fact that J.B. Guadagnini may possibly be considered the last of the great master violin makers in the second half of the so-called "golden age", while Italy was under Bourbon rule.

Casa Guadagnini[edit]

Guadagnini family of luthiers

When Guadagnini died in 1786 he was succeeded by his sons Gaetano I (1750–1817) and Carlo (1768–1816). They inherited the business in the middle of an economic decline, which had taken hold in Italy during the 18th century, and exports to France further dried up for Turin after the French Revolution in 1789. The generations of Guadagninis after Giovanni Battista became specialists in guitars, and, except for a scant few violins.

In 1796 and again in 1798 Napoleon invaded Piedmont and established control over it and most of Italy. Turin and the entire Kingdom of Sardinia, along with the Republic of Genoa, were annexed to France, remaining a Department until the French retreated in 1814. In this environment the Guadagnini brothers continued to ply their craft, making guitars and mandolins and the very occasional violin.

In 1814, with their empire collapsing, the French abruptly abandoned Turin, and the Sardinian king returned to claim his territories. In the peace following the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the king was permitted to keep the old Republic of Genoa, which the French had incorporated into their territory, thus bringing an end to centuries of Genoese independence. As the economy began to recover, the Guadagnini family faced a tragedy when Carlo, the younger of the two brothers, died in 1816. His elder brother, Gaetano I, had no children, and succession most logically should have been through Carlo’s family. Thus it was that Gaetano I made a contract with his brother’s family so that the business would be inherited by Carlo’s eldest son Gaetano II (1796–1852), who was only 20 years old but had learnt his trade in the family workshop. He took full control the following year, when Gaetano I died.

Under Gaetano II the business began to prosper. He remained primarily a maker of guitars, but there were occasional violins and after the 1820s these took advantage of French methods. This connection is implicit, rather than documented: it comes in the shape of Gaetano Guadagnini violins from the 1830s onwards using an external form very similar to that used by the French and by the Guadagninis’ neighbors, Giovanni Francesco Pressenda and Alexandre D’Espine.

Gaetano II received important patronage from the royal family, particularly the duke of Genoa, the son of the king of Sardinia, and had a contract to provide repairs and services to the fledgling Philharmonic Society. On his death in 1852 an extensive inventory revealed him to be a steady business client of and partner to the Vuillaume family in Paris.

The Guadagnini lineage thus continued with Gaetano II’s son Antonio (1831–1881). Antonio inherited the business at 21 but his age was hardly a drawback, for he was probably the most successful businessman in the family. He took advantage of local talent and while his production included many guitars, he had an increased trade in violins. He employed many of the finest craftsmen of his age, including Enrico Marchetti, the brothers Enrico and Pietro Melegari, and a French Savoyard named Maurice Mermillot, who worked for him for several years before returning to Paris to establish his own business. Antonio also continued his father’s trade with the Vuillaume family and was a debtor to Nicolas Vuillaume at the time of the latter’s death in 1877.

Antonio died aged 50 on New Year’s Eve 1881, leaving the business to his widow and his 18-year-old son Francesco (1863–1948). It continued under Antonio’s name, as was the custom, and for 12 years Francesco worked for his mother. There are indications that this relationship was not always smooth, and in 1893 Francesco and his brother left for Rome. However, when his mother died the following year, Francesco returned to Turin and took over the business, renaming it in the process.

By this time the violin trade had changed significantly. Antonio’s only rival had been the maker and dealer Benedetto Gioffredo, called Rinaldi. Rinaldi, like Guadagnini, had hired numerous makers to work for him. By the end of the century, many of these makers had established their own shops. Francesco, as a violin maker, had to compete against Enrico Melegari, Enrico Marchetti, Giorgio Gatti and Romano Marengo Rinaldi, Benedetto’s successor, and later also Carlo Giuseppe Oddone and Annibale Fagnola. He continued as his father and grandfather had, though, as a maker of violins and guitars. There is a certain amount of his later production that suggests the use of French labor or even unfinished French instruments, but mostly it is recognizably Francesco’s work, albeit in the Fagnola-like Turin style more in the character of his times.

Francesco’s son Paolo (1906–1943) would have continued the lineage, but his death during World War II and the family shop’s destruction during bombing raids finally brought the six-generation Guadagnini dynasty to a close.

Performers with Guadagnini instruments[edit]

Violinist Date & place of manufacture Sobriquet Comments Reference
Felix Ayo 1744 [4]
Riccardo Brengola 1747, Piacenza Contessa Crespi [5]
Adolf Brodsky 1751, Milan ex-Brodsky [6]
Zakhar Bron 1757, Milan [7]
Amaury Coeytaux 1773 [8][permanent dead link]
Andrew Dawes 1770, Parma [9]
Richard Deakin English chamber musician and soloist, currently teaching at RAM in London, was using one in 1980s and likely still is [6]
Julia Fischer 1742 [10]
Carl Flesch ex-Henri Vieuxtemps [11]
David Garrett 1772 In December 2007, Garrett fell after a performance and smashed his Guadagnini, which he had purchased four years earlier for US$1 million.[7] He now uses it for mainly his outdoor crossover performances.[8]
David Greed 1757 Owned by the Yorkshire Guadagini 1757 Syndicate. [12]
Arthur Grumiaux ex-Grumiaux [13]
David Halen 1753 [14]
Jascha Heifetz 1741, Piacenza ex-Heifetz Provenance - by Rembert Wurlitzer in 1946 and Dario D'Attili in 1991 [15]
Marlene Hemmer 1784 [16]
Peter Herresthal 1753, Milan [5]
Willy Hess 1740s [17]
Joseph Joachim 1767, Parma ex-Joachim [18]
Ida Kavafian 1751 [19]
David Kim 1757 on loan from The Philadelphia Orchestra [20]
Min-Jeong Koh 1767 [21]
Goran Končar 1753, Milan [22]
Mikhail Kopelman 1773 [23]
Michał Kowalkowski 1753 Gucio
Jan Kubelik 1750 ex-Kubelik [24]
Pekka Kuusisto 1752 on loan from the Finnish Cultural Foundation [25]
Manfred Leverkus 1752 ex-Kneisel stolen in 2006
Jack Liebeck 1785 ex-Wilhelmj [26]
Wayne Lin 1779, Turin [27]
Tasmin Little 1757, Milan [5][28]
Haldon Martinson 1750 Being used in the Boston Symphony Orchestra [29]
Stefan Milenkovich 1780, Turin [30]
Viktoria Mullova 1750 [31]
Ginette Neveu Purchased early spring, 1949. Involved in a plane crash later that year, in which Neveu died. Scroll later apparently appeared in Paris, having changed hands several times. [32]
Simone Porter 1745 on loan from The Mandell Collection of Southern California [33]
William E. Pynchon 1779, Turin Purchased March 26, 1957. Played in San Francisco Opera until 1998
Linda Rosenthal 1772, Turin [34]
Leon Sametini ex-Sametini [35]
Mari Silje Samuelsen 1773, Turin On loan from ASAF (Anders Sveeas Charitable Foundation, Oslo). [36][37]
Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio 1757 [38]
Mayumi Seiler 1740, Piacenza
Sini-Maaria Simonen 1760 on loan from the Finnish Cultural Foundation [39]
Roman Simovic 1752 on loan from Jonathan Moulds [40]
Yvonne Smeulers 1785 [41]
Lara St. John 1779 Salabue called "the Resurrection" by St. John [42]
Lyndon Johnston Taylor 1777 [43]
Henri Temianka 1752 Built based on the Petro Guarnerius model. Certificate of Joseph Vedral, violinmaker, Holland, 28 September 1929
Vanessa-Mae 1761 Gizmo [44]
Pavel Vernikov 1747, Piacenza ex-Contessa Crespi, ex-Brengola on loan from Fondazione Pro Canale. Worth $1.5 million in 2016. Stolen in December 2016.[9]
Henri Vieuxtemps ex-Henri Vieuxtemps [45]
Henryk Wieniawski 1750 ex-Wieniawski [46]
Bob Wills 1784 Described as 157 years old when bought in 1941 for $3,000, Wills later claimed in an interview that he gave it away "to a friend of mine in Tayxas" and bought another for $5,000. [10]
Eugène Ysaÿe 1774 ex-Eugène Ysaÿe [47]
Li Chuan Yun 1784 on loan from the Stradivari Society [48]


  • Guadagnini[permanent dead link]
  • G B Guadagnini
  • E.N. Doring: The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers (Chicago,1949)
  • A.H. König, ed.: Die Geigenbauer der Guadagnini-Familie. Die Turiner Schule (Frankfurt, 1981)
  • G. Fiori: ‘Documenti biografici di artisti e personaggi piacentini dal ’600 all’ ’800 nell’Archivo Vescovile di Piacenza’, Strenna piacentina (1994), 67–111
  • P.J. Kass: Violin Makers of the Piedmontese School
  • Vannes, Rene (1985) [1951]. Dictionnaire Universel del Luthiers (vol.3). Bruxelles: Les Amis de la musique. OCLC 53749830.
  • William, Henley (1969). Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers. Brighton; England: Amati. ISBN 0-901424-00-5.
  • Walter Hamma, Meister Italienischer Geigenbaukunst, Wilhelmshaven 1993, ISBN 3-7959-0537-0
  • Duane Rosengard: G.B. Guadagnini - The life and achievement of a master maker, Carteggio Media, 2000


  1. ^ Kass, Philip. "Violin Making in Turin, part 2: the Guadagnini family".
  2. ^ "Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711-1786)".
  3. ^ Ernest N. Doring. The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers Lewis and Sons, Chicago, 1949. Reprint with new introduction by Stewart Pollins, Dover, 2012. ISBN 978048649796-9
  4. ^ Kass, Phillip J. "Violin Making in Turin, part 2: the Guadagnini family". Retrieved 19 May 2018. Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711–1786), who was to dominate the city’s violin trade...Guadagnini brothers continued to ply their craft, making guitars and mandolins and the very occasional violin
  5. ^ a b c d e "In praise of Gaudagnini". The Strad (magazine)|format= requires |url= (help) (Vol. 122). October 2011. pp. 36–44.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Wagner, Thomas (2008-02-14). "Violinist: Fall Fractures $1M Fiddle". The Associated Press. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-02-15.
  8. ^ David Garrett - livestream in NY, 8 June 2012. By David Garrett. YouTube. YouTube, 7 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 July 2013. <>.
  9. ^ "Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin, worth $1.5m, stolen from Geneva train". The Strad.
  10. ^ San Antonio Rose: The Life And Music Of Bob Wills. Charles R. Townsend. 1976. University of Illinois. p. 230. ISBN 0-252-00470-1
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 July 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  14. ^ Natalie Clein
  15. ^ Aitchison Mnatzaganian cello makers, restorers and dealers Archived 2 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Maxine Neuman's biography
  17. ^ [3]
  18. ^ ASQ Instruments, Australian String Quartet, accessed 2017-02-12

External links[edit]