The top lot in our May auction is a violin made in Brescia by Giovanni Battista Rogeri, which bears its original label dated 1705. Although Brescia originally rivaled Cremona in the early development of the violin, by the 1670s it had all but lost its serious violin making tradition. Meanwhile in Cremona at this time there were no fewer than three family dynasties making violins – the Amatis, Rugeris and Guarneris – and there was also the fresh presence of an enterprising young upstart named Stradivari. Perhaps Rogeri sensed this opportunity when he moved from Cremona to Brescia in the mid-1670s. Having apprenticed for over a decade in the Nicolò Amati workshop, he was poised to bring Cremonese refinement and discipline to the Brescian market.
The back of this instrument is made in one piece of spectacularly flamed maple and covered in a golden honey-colored varnish. From afar it could easily pass as an exceptional Amati. The arching is of medium height but fuller at the edges than the typical Amati pattern. The fluting, the purfling and the edge margin all happen close to the edge, which gives the back an air of refinement and accentuates the already generous center-bout widths of 11.3 cm. The corners are elegant and long – more so than any other Amati pupil – and they are gently ‘hooked’, particularly at the upper corners.
Violin by G.B. Rogeri, Brescia 1705. Photos: Tarisio
While we might confuse the back for an Amati, there’s no chance of mistaking the front. There is considerable variety in Rogeri soundholes, giving the maker’s instruments several different but recognizable ‘faces’. The soundholes on early examples are much closer to an Amati pattern, are often set closer together with largish round holes. In later examples, especially where we begin to see the collaboration of Pietro Giacomo, such as in this instrument, the lower holes become smaller and the stems become noticeably narrower and sinewy. In placement and orientation the holes on this instrument are laid out as an Amati, but the stems drawing the two together and the wings formed therein deviate noticeably from the classical Amati style.
The scroll is exceptionally well carved and yet remarkably asymmetrical
The scroll is exceptionally well carved and yet remarkably asymmetrical. The general layout of the scroll profile follows an Amati pattern but the eye of the volute feels slightly out of place: on the treble side it is set towards the back and pointing downwards; on the bass side it is more central, perhaps higher than normal, and faces upwards. The hollowing of the volute is flat and full for the first half turn and then becomes progressively deeper into its final turn, which is narrow on the bass side and rather wide on the treble. The narrow chamfer makes the carving feel fine and precise and exaggerates the fullness of the outer turns. The label of this instrument appears to be the original and, despite some restorations to the paper, is in relatively good shape.
Most recently the property of a performing arts academy, this instrument has been turning heads (and ears) since it arrived in our New York office earlier this spring.
Lorenzo Storioni is often romanticized as the last guard of the classical Cremonese style – the spiritual descendant of Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ who kept the Cremona tradition afloat as long as possible. Leaving aside the mythology about his place in history, two things are evident about Storioni: he made plenty of great instruments and, plainly put, they just work.
This circa 1770 viola is one of the earliest instruments by this late Cremonese master. The back is formed of one piece of slab-cut maple with an attractive irregular flame. The arch is relatively modest and flat. The edges are wide and sturdy, seemingly almost more of cello proportions, and the edge channeling is precise and decisive. Most notable on the back of this instrument is its varnish, which is thick and appears recently applied where it has dried – almost caramelized – into thick blobs in the corners. The color can appear a rich orange-brown or a deep golden-yellow depending on the light.
The head of this viola makes me think that Storioni would have rather been making a cello
The wood-choice for the front is typical of Storioni: fine-grained spruce with a smattering of hazelfichten. Varnish and dirt residue in the sunken annual rings give contrast to the front, giving it a visual pop. The soundholes are set at an angle with straight stems and slightly hatchet-shaped wings. The purfling is less tidy on the front, perhaps betraying the maker’s haste with the softer spruce. The edges on both the front and the back of this viola are in excellent condition, revealing toolmarks and the maker’s methods in a way that more heavily restored instruments no longer show.
Viola by Lorenzo Storioni, Cremona 1770. Photos: Tarisio
The head of this viola makes me think that Storioni would have rather been making a cello. The widely stepped cheeks give the scroll a feeling of mass and solidity, and at over 7 mm thick the sturdy pegbox walls are unlikely to develop a peg-crack anytime soon. Not all Storioni violas have stepped cheeks; in general the smaller-model violas tend to have cheeks and the larger ones don’t. All Storioni heads, however, have grouped pegs, where the upper and lower pairs of pegs are closer to each other than they are to the other pair, and this trait is particularly evident on the scrolls of the large-pattern violas. The peg-holes of this viola have been bushed to be slightly less grouped but the outlines of the bushings show the original placement.
Internally, the instrument bears the maker’s brand ‘L.S.’ and to the lower rib it is also branded ‘Cremona’; both of these brands are also seen on the c. 1770 Storioni viola d’amore in the Cité de la Musique, Paris. This viola is illustrated in The Late Cremonese Violin Makers by one of Tarisio’s original founders, Dmitry Gindin.
The violas of Lorenzo Storioni are known for both sonority and grit, two things which aren’t always packaged together in the same instrument. To paraphrase a violist who played this instrument recently: its impressive growl and snarl are balanced by a beguiling lyrical warmth.
Both instruments are available in our May New York auction, which closes on May 17 – view catalog.
Lot 149: A FINE ITALIAN VIOLIN BY GIOVANNI BATTISTA ROGERI, BRESCIA, 1705.
Lot 45: A FINE ITALIAN VIOLA BY LORENZO STORIONI, CREMONA, c. 1770.