This is a fascinating early 18th century Milanese violin by a maker from the circle of Giovanni Grancino. It’s a beautiful looking instrument with some unique points of style, and the sound is everything one might wish for from a fine Italian violin.
It seems we will never know the name of the person who made this violin. There is unanimous agreement amongst the leading experts that it’s early 18th century Milanese, and that it’s original in all parts, but it seems we have no reference examples with original labels. Charles Beare states that the f-holes are very close to those of a very obscure maker, Carlo Rotta, of whom four examples are known, but that other features are divergent, in particular the edgework. Most likely the violin was made by someone who worked alongside Rotta or who apprenticed in the same shop.
The model is very refined, with long drawn out corners and quite a pronounced recurve to the arching. The wood, varnish and ground are 100% Grancino.
The violin has had some significant restoration, all carried out to a high standard. There are a number of cracks in the table and two to the upper right back corner, and there’s a full width acoustic patch in the back, probably put there to correct the overly zealous chisel of a previous “improver”. However, the overall look is still very attractive, and the original varnish is well preserved.
Sound-wise, this is a dream of a violin. The construction is informed by a philosophy which we now seem incapable of understanding, let alone emulating, and the tone is also from a different dimension. Luminous and projecting while remaining discreet under the ear, it’s a sound which sits outside the violin and which draws in the listener – quite dark in overall character, very smooth and creamy, but with a clean and silvery articulation throughout the register. The most obvious quality of the sound is that it’s always beautiful and rounded, never remotely harsh or boxy. This instrument pre-dates (intellectually at least) the more muscular and robust archings of Stradivari and del Gesu, and it’s probably not the right violin if you’re planning to punch out the great Russian concertos in front of the Berlin Phil. But if you’re looking for an exquisite and individual sound for chamber music or for smaller halls, this could be the one.
We tend to talk about such violins as “player’s instruments” simply because collectors and speculators aren’t interested in them. Yet for a player, the most important investment is the one you make in your own musical potential …
A Grancino in good condition would be over £200K and probably wouldn’t sound as good. If you are open-minded enough to accept some restoration, it would be very hard to find a better quality of sound at the price.
Dimensions: length of back 35.4cm, stop 131/195mm
Certificate: WE Hill & Son, London 1942 stating “probably Santino Lavazza”
Letter of attribution (pro forma) from Beare Violins, Tonbridge 2018
Letter of attribution (pro forma) from Florian Leonhard, London 2018
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