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Violin by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, 1744 ex “Ole Bull”

Tags: Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu | violin

The son of Giuseppe Guarneri filius Andrea (1666–1740), Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù is usually referred to as Guarneri del Gesù. He was reputed as the greatest violinmaker since Antonio Stradivari, and was well trained by his father and brothers, showing exceptional talent from an early age.

Guarneri worked together with Carlo Bergonzi in his father’s workshop before the age of 24, and later set up his own violin-making business in 1723. Between 1726 and 1730, he expanded his learning by adopting the violin style of Stradivari and the curvy violin shape of Maggini, and applied a darker layer of lacquer over a light-yellow base color. From 1729 onwards, Guarneri began to mark his violins with the letters “IHS” and a cross symbol. It was believed that Guarneri was a devout Catholic, and that he used the name “Guarneri del Gesù” to distinguish himself from his father.

Guarneri’s work reached the peak of perfection after 1730, the point at which he developed his own personal style. The structural design of his violins was outstanding and highly innovative. During the Golden Period between 1730 and 1735, Guarneri made many large violins, reflecting his creativity and courage for experimental challenges. The violins that he made a few years before his death are coarser and simpler in style with the sound still full of power; the axe marks shown on these violins reveal Guarneri’s distinctive personality. During the 14 years from his career peak until his death, Guarneri had produced numerous versatile and innovative violins that have become collector’s items today, ranking alongside the works of Stradivari as some of the finest violins ever made.

In terms of uniqueness in technique, Guarneri focused primarily on the development of large, solidly-built violins that bore a rich and deep timbre. His violins had a flattish body, with a longer C-peg and an outstanding structure. The elegant F-holes are somewhat wider than the norm, and the tracery is relatively close to the edge of the sound box. Guarneri violins have a particularly bright sound, more powerful and vigorous than a Stradivari violin. As a result, they are more favored by some leading violinists. Guarneri del Gesù’s violin-making career lasted only two decades; he had neither offspring nor apprentices to follow his footsteps. Experts believe that he made around 200 violins in his lifetime, among which no violas or cellos were made, and only about 150 violins remain today.

The Guarneri used in this recording has a deep, booming sound. Made in 1744, this violin is believed to be the last work by Guarneri del Gesù.

This particular instrument once belonged to the famous Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull (1810–1880). Bull was a leading figure in the Norwegian nationalist movement. His promotion of Norwegian music won him the status of national hero, and he is even regarded as the country’s founding father. This Guarneri was his most beloved instrument, and has been named after him. Subsequent owners included James Goding, C. H. C. Plowden, Frederick Lehmann, and Uto Ughi.

Taiwan’s Chi Mei Foundation acquired the “Ole Bull” in 1992. With its smooth, arched shape, it has the full sound of a Guarneri and the sonorous tone of the Cremona tradition. The violin, which bears the label of the original maker, is 35.2 cm long, with the back made from two pieces of maple-wood lacquered in yellow-orange color.

This Guarneri has been lent to several overseas museums, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Norway’s National Museum, and the Music Museum in Paris. It has also been used in Norwegian films and TV programs in commemoration of Ole Bull. The historic importance of this violin cannot be undervalued.




Text and images are provided by Music Digital Archives Center, National Taiwan Normal University (Digital Violin Archive Project of Chi Mei Museum)