From its emergence in the 16th century, the violin has played a leading role in classical music. As well as providing us with some of the most memorable melodies and musicians, the skill and technique of the very best violin makers have enabled some instruments to acquire a treasured status due to their label.
Here we examine 10 of the luthiers with their most famous violin labels.
Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-1632)
Maggini’s early works were influenced by Gasparo Da Salo, his teacher, but he later moved increasingly in the direction of the Cremonese school. While his instruments are praised for their excellent tone quality, they can be difficult to play due to their size.
Jacobus Stainer (1620-1683)
Stainer was the first great representatives of his trade in Tirol, and had a reputation for producing some of the best violins of his day. In the 18th century, it was common to pay more for a Stainer violin than one made in Cremona. Like other great masters, his label was used in numerous copies of his work long after his death,.
Francesco Ruggieri (1620-1695)
Although Ruggieri’s instruments show definite signs of the influence of Amati, no evidence has yet been found to prove that he received his training at the Amati workshop. As well as violins, Ruggeri made an important advance in cello-making, reducing its size in comparison to his contemporaries. The Ruggieri family name appeared in different forms on various violins, including Regeri, Ruger, Ruggeri and Ruggerius.
Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)
Arguably the greatest of them all, Stradivari began under the influence of the Amati tradition but began to develop his own unique style in the 1680s. This included longer F holes and stronger necks on his violins. His so-called golden period ran from around 1700 to 1720. The most expensive Stradivarius sold in 2011 at a London auction house for an incredible £9.8 million. Here you can see one of his instruments from 1715 in action.
Girolamo (Hieronymus) Amati (1649-1740)
Girolamo (or Hieronymus) Amati II was the eldest son of Nicolò Amati and the last maker of the family. He studied with his father from an early age and took over the family workshop after his father’s death in 1684. Although the workshop never again achieved the success or prolific production it had enjoyed under Nicolò, probably because of competition from the Stradivari and Guarneri shops, Girolamo was a gifted maker.
Matthias Klotz (1656-1743)
Matthias Klotz was a member of the Klotz family of violin makers that flourished in Germany as early as 1683. He studied with Jacob Stainer in his early years before making his way to Cremona where he then learned with Nicolo Amati.
Carlo Bergonzi (1683-1747)
Alongside Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri, Bergonzi was one of the leading Italian violin-makers of his day. He has been credited with over 40 violins still in existence, most of which are in private collections. He began signing his instruments in 1720, and his best period is reckoned to be 1730-40. In this clip, concert master of the Pittsburgh Symphony Noah Bendix-Balgley speaks about obtaining a Bergonzi 1732 model.
Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri (1698-1744)
Guarneri, part of a family of excellent violin-makers, became known as Guarneri del Gesù due to his violin label carrying the letters IHS and a cross. His grandfather and father were top class violin-makers in their own right. The violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini is rumoured to have preferred a to play a violin made by Guarneri del Gesù. Between 150 and 200 violins remain in existence, which were generally smaller than their contemporaries.
Nicholas Lupot (1784-1824)
As a compliment to his great skill, Lupot was nicknamed the French Stradivari in his day. He emerged from a family in which violins had been made for over a century. His violins bore the label Nicholas Lupot a Paris, where he was based from 1794.
Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875)
Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume was an illustrious French luthier and winner of many awards. During his lifetime he made over 3,000 instruments and was also a fine businessman and inventor.
More information, including images of the labels described in this article can be found here.