The Glorious Violins - The Cremona School

Tags: Cremona | violin

Stringed instruments are among the most beautiful sounding instruments, and possess a unique, multi-faceted expressive capability. Their range of sound imitates the human voice, bearing extreme charisma both in aesthetic perception and emotional interpretation. The stringed instrument can also simultaneously perform fast-paced and highly ornamented pieces to enable skilled performers to spontaneously express various musical sentiments, from soft sweetness to dramatic tension. Stringed instruments also combine well with other instruments in ensemble performances.

The stringed instrument, as we know it today in western music history, first appeared around 400 years ago. Over the century, its status steadily rose, from originally being a folk instrument played by commoners to an instrument favored among aristocrats in royal palaces. Its high acceptance in various social levels demonstrates the uniqueness of its quality. As western music evolved over time, the importance of stringed instruments also increased. The development of instrumentals, the emergence of symphonies, and the popularity of concerto were all closely linked to stringed instruments. It goes without saying that stringed instruments, which can be found anywhere, such as imperial courts, orchestras, theatres, homes, and so forth, have become universally favored instruments nowadays. Among them, the violin, which bears expressive power, rich tone, and small, lightweight construction, is the most widely adopted stringed instrument.

Violin by Antonio Amati, 1588 ex “Mendelssohn-Armada”

Violin making

Since 1990, the Chi Mei Culture Foundation has been engaged in an unprecedented program of famous violin collections, focusing particularly on Italian violins. The Italian violin-making tradition was based on family businesses in which skills were handed down from generation to generation and through apprenticeship. From its birthplace in Cremona, the violin-making industry gradually expanded into numerous schools over time. The goal that Chi Mei set for itself was to acquire all works by important luthiers and their apprentices from each vioin-making school, so as to present a comprehensive picture of the development of the Italian violin-making tradition. Among its collection also includes instruments made by the distinguished Austrian luthier, Jacob Stainer (c.1617-c.1683), the four greatest French violinmakers, and the leading masters in Holland and Spain. It is undoubted that Chi Mei is building an ideal “Kingdom of Violins.”

In 2006, the Chi Mei Culture Foundation collaborated with National Taiwan Normal University to initiate a project on digital archives of Chi Mei famous violins, and was selected to represent National Science Council’s “Taiwan e-Learning & Digital Archives Program─Taiwan Digital Archives Expansion Project” in 2006 and 2007. The objective of the project was to display these unique Taiwanese cultural assets in the form of digitalized representations. Major works include the copywriting for the introduction of violins, the filming of interactive three-dimensional images, the production of virtual reality, recording, etc. (For relevant results, please browse through the project website at

Digital Violin Archive Project of Chi Mei Museum


Cremona School

Cremona is located in northern Italy today, adjoining the Po River. The city was established in 218 B.C. by the Romans as a military outpost. Around the 11th century, Cremona gradually showed great importance in transportation and commercial functions owing to its well-developed river communications, which boosted the city’s prosperity.

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Cremona had close ties with Venice, and became one of the major centers of cultural activity during the Renaissance. The city’s advanced river system facilitated the transport of wood from mountains to other regions, which helped to stimulate the growth of the local violin-making industry.


Violin by Andrea Amati, c. 1570

The manufacturing of musical instruments in Cremona began in the 1520s. According to legend, the luthier Giovanni Leonardo da Martinengo and his student Andrea Amati (c. 1505-1577) moved to Cremona from Brescia to set up a workshop in town, which since then opened up the great dynasty of violin-making in Cremona. A dramatic increase in commercial activity during the Renaissance period steadily expanded the violin market. Despite the outbreak of wars and plagues in the early 17th century that slowed down the industry’s development, the Cremona school was brought to a new peak once again under the hard effort of Nicolò Amati (1596-1684), who continuously cultivated many outstanding violinmakers, such as Francesco Ruggeri (c. 1620-1698), Andrea Guarneri (1626-1698), etc.

Bronze statue of Antonio Stradivari

Following the death of the great Brescian violinmaker Giovanni Paolo Maggini (c.1580–c.1630), the center of the Italian violin-making industry shifted from Brescia to Cremona, and by the mid-17th century, violins made in Cremona were much more valuable than those made in Brescia. During the time of Antonio Stradivari (c. 1644-1737), the Cremona school of violin-making technique was brought to a peak of perfection, winning the reputation of the best violin-making industry in Italy and around the world.




Cello by Antonio Stradivari, c. 1730 ex “Pawle”


The Cremona school exerted a major influence on the subsequent history of violin making. Numerous individual workshops that followed the traditional technique of violin making can be found on the streets in town. Cremona not only has a Museo Stradivariano with collections of famous violins by Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari, but also an internationally recognized as the most reputed violin-making school, Scuola Internazionale di Liuteria “Antonio Stradivari.” Although it is not a major city of great economic growth in Italy, Cremona’s outstanding violin-making industry has indubitably marked a splendid page in the history of violin.

Cremona’s town hall (Palazzo Comunale).Inside, there is a violin room with about 10 ancient violins and violas.

Cremona Cathedral (Duomo di Cremona)

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