Giovanni Pressenda violin, Turin, 1828

This Pressenda violin shows a distinctly individual flair – and a possible link to Luigi Tarisio

By Benjamin Hebbert July 1, 2013

Despite the decline of the classical Cremonese school during the 18th century, violin making in northern Italy continued to be highly personalized. The work of the great Italian makers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, such as G.B. Guadaganini, G.B. Ceruti and Lorenzo Storioni, reveals a fierce individualism while remaining within the classical traditions. Meanwhile the French, led by Nicolas Lupot, were creating highly disciplined and precise interpretations of Stradivari’s work.

When Giovanni Pressenda arrived in Turin around 1817, he rapidly established a position between those two schools. He had a Lupot-like discipline and precision, but, like Guadagnini, his work is distinguished by individual flair and an understanding of classical violins.

Pressenda violin, Turin, 1828. Photo: Tarisio

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Pressenda came to violin making late in life. Although his labels refer to his father Raphael, his family were in fact peasants. He was 43 when he moved to Turin and his work already displays a confident hand, producing sophisticated interpretations of the Stradivari model. His later violins, from 1830 to his death in 1854, are made on a personalized model that displays an understanding of Stradivari and Guarneri ‘del Gesù’.

Pressenda violin, Turin, 1928

The 1928 Pressenda violin shown here is a fine example from the period when he was more explorative in his choice of models. It is tempting to speculate about the influence of Luigi Tarisio, as some Pressenda instruments come very close to specific classical violins in Tarisio’s collection. This example resembles late-period Stradivaris such as the c. 1734 ‘Habeneck’ and the 1737 ‘Swan’, both of which were owned by Tarisio. The bold arching, rising steeply from the purfling, is highly reminiscent of late Stradivari. So too are the soundholes, which show many of the characteristics that reveal Francesco Stradivari’s hand in late-period Stradivaris. Pressenda left a statement of individuality in his scroll, which has Stradivarian grandeur but is finished with a distinctive oversized eye.

Tarisio sold this fine 1928 Pressenda violin in 2013. Read more about Pressenda in Philip J. Kass’s survey of the 19th-century Turin school

Further reading

Eric Blot, Liuteria Italiana: Volume IV, 1800-1950: 150 Years of Violinmaking in Piedmont, Eric Blot Edizioni, Cremona, 2001.
Marengo Rinaldi, Tre Figlie della Langhe, 1904.

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