Domenico Montagnana

Highest auction price achieved
£ 612000.00

By George Hart

Pupil of Antonio Stradivari After leaving the workshop of his famous master he followed his art in Cremona. He afterwards removed to Venice, where Violin manufacture was in the most flourishing condition, and adopted the name of " Cremona" as the sign of his house. In days when houses were unnumbered, tradesmen were found by their sign, and they were often puzzled to select one both distinctive and effective. The Violin-makers of Italy, having exhausted the calendar of its Saints emblematic of Harmony, left it to the Venetian to honour the name of himself and the city which was the seat of the greatest Violin manufacture the world had witnessed. In Venice he soon attained great popularity, and made the splendid specimens of his art with which we are familiar. The instructions which he had received at Cremona enabled him to surpass all in Venice. He gained great knowledge of the qualities of material, and of the thicknesses to be observed ; and, moreover, he carried with him the superior form of the Cremonese school, and the glorious varnish. Mr. Reade names him "the mighty Venetian," an appellation not a whit too high-sounding, though it may appear so to those not acquainted with his finest works. The truth is, that Montagnana is less known than any of the great makers. For years his works have been roaming about bearing the magic labels of " Guarnerius filius Andreae," " Carlo Bergonzi," and sometimes of " Pietro Guarneri," although there is barely a particle of resemblance between the works of our author and the makers named, whose labels have been used as floats. Montagnana was in every way original, but the fraud that has foisted his works upon makers who were better known has prevented his name from being associated with many of his choicest instruments, and deprived him of the place which he would long since have held in the estimation of the true connoisseur. This injustice, however, is fast passing away; as ever, genius comes forth triumphant. The time is near when the " mighty Venetian " and Carlo Bergonzi will occupy positions little less considerable than that of the two great masters. Already the merits of these makers are daily more appreciated, and when the scarcity of their genuine works is considered, it becomes a matter of certainty that their rank must be raised to the point indicated. It is much to be regretted that both Montagnana and Bergonzi did not leave more numerous specimens behind them. Would that each had been as prolific as their common master! We should then have inherited a store from which our coming Violinists and Violoncellists could have possessed themselves of splendid instruments, when those of Guarneri and Stradivari were placed far beyond reach. In these times, when the love of music is rapidly developing itself among all classes, the question of supply must attract notice. The prime question with respect to Violins of the highest character is not now as to price, but as to the supply of limited and daily decreasing material; and the doubtful point is, not whether purchasers are to be found who may not be unwilling to pay the increased cost consequent upon scarcity, but whether the instruments required will be available in sufficient numbers to satisfy the demand of those quite prepared to gratify their wishes for the possession of an instrument of the first rank. A single glance is sufficient to remind us that the list of makers of the highest class, and particularly of original artists, is scanty indeed. There are a few copyists, it is true, notably Lupot and Panormo, whose instruments must take a considerable position, but on the whole the demand will far exceed the supply. The difficulty here noticed is intensified from the fact of the Violin being, unlike any other musical instrument, sought after as it is for the cabinets of the collector as well as for actual use—a state of things perfectly natural when its artistic beauties are considered. Violinists possibly consider they smart under a sense of wrong at the hands of collectors in thus indulging their taste; but, on the other hand, we have reason to be grateful to the lovers of art for having stayed the hand of Time in demolishing these treasures. To return to the subject of this present notice: it is evident that when Montagnana left the workshop of Stradivari, he gave full scope to his creative powers. He at once began to construct upon principles of his own, and thus followed the example of his fellow-worker, Carlo Bergonzi. If comparison be made between the work of Stradivari and that of Domenico Montagnana, with regard to detail, the two makers will not be found to have much in common. It is when Montagnana's instrument is viewed as a whole that the teaching of Stradivari is evidenced. A similar assertion may, in a lesser degree, be made in the case of Carlo Bergonzi. To dissect the several points of difference is a simple matter. If we begin with the outline, that of Montagnana has not the smoothness and grace of the Stradivarian type ; the upper and lower curves are flattened, while those of the centre are extended. The sound-hole partakes more of the character of Guarneri; the scroll is larger, and the turns bolder than in the Stradivari form. These, then, may be considered to be the chief points wherein, if viewed as separate items, Montagnana seems to have varied from his master: and hence we may obtain some idea of the amount of originality belonging to this maker—an amount, indeed, not inferior to that of any Cremonese artist that can be cited. The increasing popularity of Montagnana's instruments is sufficient proof that his design was fraught with much that is valuable. In departing from the form of Antonio Stradivari, Carlo Bergonzi and Montagnana doubtless intended to bring out in a stronger degree certain particular qualities of tone: at the same time we may be sure that they had no idea of attempting to improve upon Stradivari in his own field of work, for they must have well known the Herculean character of such a task. On the other hand, had these remarkable makers been mere copyists, they would certainly have handed down to us more instruments moulded in exact accord with the style of their great teacher ; while, at the same time, we should have lost many variations, which are at present not only an evidence of their fertility of resource, but also in themselves most pleasing objects. If, in the sister art, Tintoretto had made it his sole business to copy Titian, the world would have been rich in copies of Titian, but poor in Tintorettos. The varnish of Montagnana has long excited the admiration of connoisseurs throughout Europe. The extreme richness and velvet-like softness which are its characteristics constitute it a fitting countersign of the workmanship of this great maker, an artist of the first magnitude. He made Violins, Violas, and Violoncellos. His Violins are of two sizes.

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Price History

Type Title Sold Price
Violin 34.9 cm Venice, 1740 c. Fri 1st October 10 £ 133250.00
Violin 35.5 cm ex "Josef Roisman" [Provenance] Tue 1st June 10 £ 612000.00
Violin 36.0 cm Italy [Ascribed to] Mon 1st October 07 £ 8125.00
Violin Venice, 1740 c. Tue 1st November 05 £ 108000.00
Violin Venice, 1729 Wed 1st June 05 £ 40249.00
Violin 1733 Wed 1st October 03 £ 138900.00
Bass 1747 c. Mon 1st March 99 £ 155500.00
Violin 1741 Mon 1st March 93 £ 177500.00
Violin 1728 c. Thu 1st November 90 £ 88000.00
Violin 1731 Wed 1st November 89 £ 77000.00
Violin 1727 Thu 1st June 89 £ 154000.00
Violin 1730 c. Tue 1st November 88 £ 225500.00
Violin 1728 Wed 1st April 87 £ 40700.00
Violin 1735 c. Sat 1st March 86 £ 48400.00
Violin 1737 Mon 1st April 85 £ 86400.00
Violin Wed 7th March 12 £ 193250.00

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