21 August 2023

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri – violin maker

Luthier’s surviving instruments are now worth millions

Guarneri made violins in  18th century Cremona
Guarneri made violins in 
18th century Cremona
Bartolomeo Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri, who is regarded as the greatest of the Guarneri family of violin makers, was born on this day in 1698 in Cremona in Lombardy.

He was the son of Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri and the grandson of Andrea Guarneri, who were both respected violin makers in the city. He learned the craft of violin making in his father’s shop, who in turn had learned from his father, Andrea, who had worked alongside the celebrated violin-maker Antonio Stradivari in the workshop of Niccolò Amati.

Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri became known as Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri because of the religious symbols on the labels he used on the instruments he produced late in his career.

Although Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ was younger than Stradivari, he became his rival because of the respect and reverence accorded to the violins he produced. These instruments have now become the most coveted of all by violinists and collectors.

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ diverged from the family tradition and created instruments in his own style, which were said to have a darker, more robust and sonorous tone than the violins produced by Stradivari.

The violin known
as Il Cannone
Fewer than 200 of the violins he produced have survived and because of their quality they sell for millions of pounds when they come on to the market.  In March this year, a 292-year-old Guarneri violin sold for  $9.44 million (£7.71 million; €8.68 million) at a saleroom in New York, making it the third most expensive instrument to ever be sold at auction.

Guarneri's instruments date from the 1720s, but instruments bearing his ‘del Gesù’ label did not appear until after 1731. His famous ‘King Joseph’ violin was produced in 1737 when he was at the peak of his craftsmanship and his later instruments display the most characteristic qualities of his unique vision.

The violinist Niccolò Paganini was one of the most celebrated players of Guarneri’s instruments. He owned a famous violin known as Il Cannone, the Cannon, which Guarneri had made in 1743, and he played it for most of his career. The name Il Cannone was Paganini's invention, bestowed upon the instrument, which had been a gift to him from an admirer, because of its power and resonance. 

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’ Guarneri died in Cremona in 1744, at the age of just 46.

In Paganini’s Ghost, a 2009 crime novel by Paul Adam, a fictitious retired Cremonese luthier has to mend Il Cannone for a young virtuoso violinist who is due to play it in the city. He later finds himself caught up in a murder investigation after a scrap of sheet music by Paganini is found in the murder victim’s wallet.

The Piazza del Comune in Cremona is one of  Italy's best-preserved mediaeval squares
The Piazza del Comune in Cremona is one of 
Italy's best-preserved mediaeval squares
Travel tip:

Cremona is an historic city in Lombardy that claims to be the birthplace of the modern violin, invented in 1566 by Andrea Amati from the viol, or medieval fiddle. The composer Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567 and the composer Amilcare Pochielli was born there in 1834. The bell tower of the Cathedral of Cremona, the Torrazzo di Cremona, which measures 112.54 metres in height is the third tallest brickwork bell tower in the world.  The cathedral overlooks the Piazza del Comune, the city's historic main square, sometimes known as Piazza del Duomo, which is among the best-preserved mediaeval squares in Italy. Next the the cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, is the beautiful octagonal Romanesque baptistry. Opposite are the Palazzo Comunale - the town hall - and the Loggia dei Militi, once a meeting place for important figures from the city and surrounding countryside.

Genoa's Palazzo Doria-Tursi
houses Paganini's Cannone
Travel tip:

Giuseppe ‘del Gesù’s’ famous Cannone violin, which was played by Paganini for most of his career, was donated to Paganini's his home city of Genoa in the violinist’s will and is now on display in the Paganini Rooms in the Palazzo Doria-Tursi in Genoa, part of the Strada Nuova Museums in the city. The violin is used in concerts, when the honour of playing it is bestowed on the winner of the international Paganini prize, a competition for young violinists.The Palazzo Doria-Tursi is in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi in the centre of the city.  The palazzo's large loggias facing the street were added in 1597, when the building was acquired by Giovanni Andrea Doria for his younger son Carlo, Duke of Tursi, giving the palazzo its present name.

Also on this day: 

1862: The birth of adventure novelist Emilio Salgari

1943: The birth of actor Lino Capolicchio

1969: The death of footballer Giuseppe Meazza 


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