Who invented the violin? Meet the Amati Family

History of Violin Making, Maker Profiles
26 February 135

a violin by Nicolò Amati exhibited at Museo del Violino.

Being an instrument maker was a vital trade in the 16th century. But how did they get started, and who were they? Find out all about the creator of the violin in the early 16th century.

Amati Family (1505 – 1684)

The family Amati is an old and noble one, not only because of the instruments it created but also because they produced generations of violin makers. This blog is dedicated to telling the little-known story of the most important family of luthiers from Cremona.

We might as well start from the very beginning, right?

Cremona

Let’s go back to the 16th century in northern Italy, more precisely Cremona and Brescia; that’s where it all began. Brescia may have been the earliest city where the violin was first crafted, but Cremona is the home of the world’s most known luthiers.

One thing that also helped these cities to emerge as the center of violin making is that the two most favored types of wood used, spruce and maple, were easily accessible in this region – indeed, they still are.

Andrea Amati, 1505-1577

Little is known about the maker’s life, not sure why but maybe merely due to the lack of information registered. Indeed, not so many instruments from the beginning of the 16th century have survived; furthermore, there is no known instrument of any kind surviving from the time before Andrea Amati in Cremona. Probably there were violins of the violin family before him, but that’s something we will probably never know for sure…

Regardless of the creator, Andre Amati and his two sons are responsible for creating the format from which all the great makers took their inspiration.

The most famous set of instruments by Andrea Amati are the 38 instruments for Charles IX, son of Catherine de Medici – a well-known patron of music and art. The instruments are painted and gilded with the arms and bearings of Charles IX; the earliest date from one of them is 1564. The set comprises all four known types of instruments, and its beauty of workmanship is a great inspiration for all luthiers nowadays.

By the mid-16th century, Andrea Amati was fairly famous, and these instruments made for an important royal court of the Renaissance only contributed to Amati’s fame at that time. As far as we know, he was the only capable maker to supply musicians with fabulous creations according to their requirements.

His two sons, Antonio and Girolamo, continued his work after his death, as well as his grandson Nicolo. The latter was the one responsible for spreading the Amati’s method and teaching great makers like Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri.

 

Nicolò Amati, 1596 – 1684

Nicolò Amati, son of Girolamo Amati, hence grandson of Andrea Amati, inherited his father’s workshop after his tragic death in 1630 due to the plague that devastated 1/3 of north Italy’s population.

By this time, in his thirties, Nicolò had worked for quite along with his dad in the workshop. The Amati’s workshop was already a large-scale business, supplying musical instruments to the most demanding musicians of the 17th century. Not only the instruments were made but as well as the cases, bows, and accessories.

Nicolò didn’t have many relatives to work alongside him in the workshop and faced an unprecedented problem: a shortage of employees. As a result, he could not meet the musicians growing demand for instruments, and he started to take apprentices outside his family, later turning out to be one of the best things that could have ever happened.

One of the major parts of his work was his assistants’ training, and the result was many young men passing through his workshop, learning and disseminating his method across European lands. Even though no clear documentation has been found, most probably Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri were Nicolò’s pupils.

The Amati family workshop’s monopoly ended after 1650, a time in which three other workshops emerged, turning Cremona into the known cradle of violin making.

Now we know and understand how Cremona turned to be the city of the violins!

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ℹ️ Source: Tarision Auctions & Roger Hargrave