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Guarneri Family of Violin Makers

Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu

The most illustrious member of this famous family of violin makers was Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri(Cremona, Italy, 1698-1744), the fifth and last member of the family, grandson of Andrea, son of Giuseppe Giovanni Battista. He is more familiarly known as Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu. Guarnerius is the Latin form of the family name and Joseph the Hebrew form of Giuseppe. The addition of "del Gesu" to the name and the Greek abbreviation for Jesus (IHS) beneath a cross on the labels indicate veneration for the Holy Name.

The outline of his violins, with slight modifications, is founded on instruments of Antonio Stradivari. Modeling of the back and table are noticeably flattened, seemingly inspired by Maggini. The F holes are of Stradivari form but are usually elongated, more open, and less refined. The carefully applied oil varnish is soft in quality and of light texture, with the color varying between pale orange and orange-brown with, occasionally, a reddish tint. The length of the body is usually 13 7/8", sometimes 1/16" less.

The estimate of his total production is not more than 250 violins; there is no positive evidence that he made instruments in any other form, although some violas and at least one violoncello are attributed to him. Approximately 150 violins are known to exist.

Stradivari and Guarnerius are ranked as the greatest of violin makers, and some fine violinists prefer the instruments of Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu to those of Stradivari.

Typical label: Joseph Guarnerius fecit Cremonae anno 1737 IHS


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Last edited by Inda
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Thank you for the nice post.

I found some more information here:

Even people who know nothing about the violin know the name of its most famous maker: "Stradivarius" is a metaphor for objects of priceless value and incomparable quality. Antonio Stradivari, who lived from 1644-1737, is the most renowned member of a family of luthiers, and made the best of the violins, violas, and cellos that bear the Stradivari name.

But almost as highly-treasured by musicians and collectors are instruments made by the Guarneri family. The most famous member of that clan is Bartolomeo Giuseppe, who signed his creations with his name and the initials “IHS” – a monogram of the name Jesus Christ – which is why he, and his fiddles, are called Guarneri del Gesù.

The Strad usually gets the nod as the superior violin model overall, but Guarneri has famous advocates, too. And what are the differences between them? Few get a chance to make an informed judgment, but one person who has is the French violinist Renaud Capuçon. For several years, Capuçon played the 1721 Stradivarius once owned by Fritz Kreisler. But in 2008, Capuçon got his "dream" violin: a 1737 Guarneri, in this case the one played for many years by Isaac Stern. In August 2008, Capuçon spoke with WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon and offered his comparison of the two violins, and told the story of how he came to possess Stern’s beloved Guarneri del Gesù.

If you’d like to see if you can hear the differences Capuçon talks about, here are two suggested recordings: On Face À Face, his 2003 album of duets with his cellist brother Gautier, he plays the “Kreisler” Strad. On his 2008 album Capriccio, he plays the Guarneri.

Now, be aware that you’re not getting an apples-to-apples comparison in these recordings. Not only are the instruments different, but so are the works played, the instrumental partnership and the recording circumstances. But even if you can’t tell the difference between the two violins, the listening itself will be rewarding enough.

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