The violin emerged in Italy in the early 1500's. Over the next three centuries, violin makers, known as luthiers, produced some of the best instruments ever made. Violins are judged by their responsiveness, tone, visual appeal, elegance of design and precision of their craftsmanship.
Amati is the surname of a family of luthiers who flourished in the Italian city of Cremona between 1550 and 1740. Andrea Amati was the first of the family to make violins – some of which survive today. The most distinguished member of the Amati family was Nicolo Amati, the grandson of Andrea Amati. Nicolo was the only member of the family to survive the plague and famine in the years around 1630.
Gasparo de Salo
Gasparo de Salo was born in Salo, Brescia, and is considered to be the founder of the Brecian school of luthiers. His real name was Gasparo Bertolotti, but tradition at the time named people after their birthplace rather than their family’s name. Gasparo’s violins are consequently signed “Gasparo de Salo.”
The five members of the Guarneri family produced violins across three generations. The head of the family, Andrea Guarneri, was born in 1626 and was initially apprenticed to Nicolo Amati. After working at his father's workshop in Cremona, Andrea’s son, Pietro founded his own successful workshop in Mantua. Andrea’s other son, Giuseppe, made instruments in Cremona and went on to father two more instrument makers: Pietro and Bartolomeo.
Zanetto Micheli was the first of the Micheli family to work as a violin maker, although it is his son, Peregrino, who is now better regarded. Peregrino was born in 1520 and died between 1606 and 1609. He was succeeded by his two sons, Giovanni and Francesco, as well as his brother-in-law Battista. The Micheli family produced viols and violas in addition to violins.
Antonio Stradivari was born in the Italian city of Cremona in 1644 and is considered one of the greatest violin makers of all time. During the 1680s, Stradivari experimented with his own shapes for the violin’s soundhole, trying softer varnish and wider inlaid borders around the edges of the instrument. A decade later he was worked at creating a violin with a narrower and longer body, the so-called “long pattern” violin. His “grand pattern” violins began to appear in 1700 and reverted to a wider and shorter design. Stradivari worked as a luthier for seventy years. Around 650 instruments produced during this time survive today. When Antonio died, his business was passed onto his son, Francesco.