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22 January 2012

Fictions, Fables, and Violins...

"Fictions, to please, like truths must meet the eye,
Nor must the Fable tax our faith too high"
-- Horace, The Art of Poetry

This is my second violin adorned with inlayed grotesque patterns. No. 71. It is just born and being played in. You might hear it in a 
concert on the 27th of January, 2012, 20:15, at Dorpskerk in Voorschoten, The Netherlands. Violin concerto by Pisendel, performed by Tomoe Mihara and the baroque orchestra of The Hague Royal Conservatoire, conducted by Peter Van Heyghen. 

The carved patterns may not add to or take anything from the sound, however
they do spice up the visual appeal of the instrument.

Importance of the visual appeal has been recognized by both players and listeners since the times of Minstrels who frequently built their own instruments: unconstrained by conventions of the modern times or consort principle, they created instruments which captured their listeners imaginations not just by their sound but by their look before the listeners heard any sound form it. For the same reason Claudio Monteverdi was excited about an arabic instrument he found somewhere in Venice because it was unusual by its looks but, according to his own words, could have been used "in our harmonies".

The inlay patterns on this violin, hand-drawn by myself, are based on the grotesque style wide spread in Europe for a fairly long time.
The style was indadvertedly discovered in the late 15th century, in Italy, in a grotta covered with designs of unimaginable creatures of all kinds, elves and nymphs, hybrids, metamorphic or teratomorphic (pathologic) creatures, half animals and half humans or plants or fishes or all sorts of deviations from the nature. The grotta is the imperial residence, the Domus Aurea, Nero's Golden House (AD 64-68). Soon after the discovery painters started producing similar designs. Consequently their style was referred to as "grotesque" and treatises were written about how to produce creatures based on nature yet not found in nature in such a way as they appear realistic, strike viewers imagination.

Inlayed patterns are not rare on lutes and viols. Usually performed from thin veneers it is relatively easy to cover an entire fingerboard. The presence of frets insures that the inlay will remain more or less intact.
The challenge with the violins that it is an unfretted instrument and the fingerboard needs to be resurfaced every 6-8 years. Therefore the inlay must be placed in the upper part of the fingerboard where it remains mostly untouched.

Eventual resurfacing may be needed at the end of the fingerboard as well. Therefore the inlay must be thick enough not to get damaged by resurfacing. For this reason both the inlay and the veneer covering the fingerboard are much thicker than it would have been normal on viols or lutes. Cutting through such a thick veneer is a challenge because the saw must be thin enough for the cut to be invisible, and the veneers should be cut at a very precise angle. A little too much and the cut will be a gapping hole, a little not enough and the decorative pattern will not fit into the opening cut for it in the main veneer. Of course, once the work is finished it is impossible to see how thick the veneer is, however, resurfacing this fingerboard a few times should not pose a serious threat to the survival of the grotesque creatures it carries.  

One layer of varnish on this violin is lightly antiquated, that is partially retouched over with another type of varnish. Same as the grotesque patterns, the model itself, and our painting method are based on the baroque, traditional principles of european artists and craftsmen of the 17th - 18th centuries.

The bridge is black but it's not made of ebony. Read the next article if you want to know why the bridge is called bridge.

Don't hesitate to contact me to try this violins! My e-mail is

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