The cultural reality of Italy in modern times has been characterised by great richness and variety. The presence of numerous small independent States, together with the ambitions of prestige of the various Courts, have left many original artistic expressions.

Naturally the history of violin-making also benefits from the postive effects of this general situation. Parma, which is approximately sixty kilometres south of Cremona and just over a hundred from Milan has always been one of the most active centres in northern Italy. We have incomplete accounts about Giovanni Maria del Bussetto, who worked in the 16th or perhaps in the following century in the style of the Amati, and about Ottavio Smidt, a maker coming from Germany specialized in the construction of plucked instruments. At the end of the 17th century we find Domenico Galli, an eclectic artist, who made two gorgeously decorated instruments for the Estense Dukedom, and which are now conserved in Modena.

At the beginning of the 18th century several luthiers who are now highly regarded were active in Parma: Andrea Borelli (1703-61) and his son Antonio; Carlo Broschi who worked during the first half of the century; Andrea Gisalberti, for whom, according to Vannes, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù worked as an apprentice.

Gisalberti was almost at the end of his career when, in 1758, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini arrived in Parma. Guadagnini (Bilegno 1711- Turin 1786) was born in the foothills of Piacenza; it used to be believed that Giovanni Battista was initiated to the profession by his father Lorenzo; however recently more exhaustive studies have questioned whether his father had ever been a luthier. Certainly Giovanni Battista lived initially in Piacenza, then in Milan and, after a brief stay in Cremona, he moved to Parma. The reason why the luthier moved so many times is no doubt based on his necessity to find the environment best suited to his profession and from this point of view Parma offered many opportunities.

In fact Parma was governed by Felipe di Borbone who, together with his Prime Minister Du Tillot, aspired to transform the ducal city into a small European capital. Felipe was a cultured sovereign, a lover of the arts, and of music in particular. Consequently Parma soon became one of the most active musical centres in the country. The Court orchestra numbered among its members some of the most valid Italian and European musicians; among these we find the cellist Carlo Ferrari, whose friendship with Guadagnini dated back to the times of Piacenza. The luthier decided to follow Ferrari and was soon contacted by the Court to work with the orchestra's musicians, repairing instruments and building new ones. Guadagnini's work must have been highly appreciated because in 1765 the Dukedom granted him a pension for the work he was performing. However in the meantime Duke Felipe had died and Du Tillot was progressively loosing influence, with the result that the economic conditions of the Borbonic Court declined and the attraction exerted on artists started to wane. Evidently Guadagnini bacame anxious with regards to the future of his numerous family, and requested permission to move to Turin. Du Tillot granted the luthier the sum of money necessary for the journey, so in 1771 Guadagnini left for the Piedmontese capital, where musicians like Viotti and Pugnani were active.

From then on the influence of the Guadagnini family on the evolution of violin-making was significant expecially in Piedmont. In the territories of Parma and Piacenza the makers who may be associated with Giovanni Battista are Gaspare Lorenzini (Piacenza 1724-1821) and Felix Mori Costa, whose instruments are held in high esteem to this day.


Associazione culturale Liuteria Parmense - Tel./Fax : +39 0521 207034 - info@liuteria-parmense.com