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The Soldier of Cremona
On February 24, 2020
by Will Robertson & Raph Hurwitz
Giuseppe Guadagnini I
Italy View this Item
"Il Soldate" (the soldier), as he is known, has been one of our more challenging research projects. There is a lot of uncertainty around various aspects of his life, not helped by the fact that he tended to travel and re-establish himself with enormous frequency.
Our first ambiguity presents itself with the year of his birth: Dilworth has him down as being born in Milan in 1753, whereas both Vannes and Henley write of him as hailing from Cremona in 1736. The first instrument, a violin, bearing his label is also cited as being from 1762, Parma, which would either make him either incredibly young, or quite old for a first independent instrument, depending on the birth year you take.

Regardless, things that we can be certain of place him as being the second of four sons to the great maker, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini. G.B. is regarded by many as "the greatest violin maker of the second half of the 18th century", famously producing his finest works under the patronage of Count Cozio. Giuseppe trained with his father, and as such, used his father's label in much of his early output.

His father tended to move frequently, spreading the family's influence over much of northern Italy, and this is a trait that Giuseppe inherited - records showing him having worked in Como (on the Swiss border), over to Turin, Pavia, and as far inland as Parma (south-east of Milan, beyond Cremona). Much of this moving was due to the fact that he would reach away from the family for periods, attempting to establish himself independently, before returning to Giovanni's workshop, wherever that may have been at the time.

Late instances of this came after a stint in Como, when he returned to Parma (the town in which his father now resided). His brothers, Carlo, Fillippo and Gaetano, were not as active in violin making as Giuseppe was, so it is said that this reunion was with the hopes of succeeding his father to head the family business. Unfortunately for Giuseppe, this did not come to pass and his father, now unknowingly close to the end of his life, uprooted the family once again and moved the business to Milan. A presumably disgruntled Giuseppe remained behind for a short period, attempting to continue things in Parma, but very quickly gave up and moved to once again rejoin his family.

Shortly after this, G.B. passed away and Giuseppe moved away to the town of Pavia where he tried his hand at teaching. This, as seemingly with all his endeavours, did not last long, and after another brief stint making in Parma, returned to Pavia c.1801 where he would live out the remainder of his years.
 It does not seem credible that he (the son of so famous a master) should have neglected those graces of style which were ever before him. - W. Henley

Giuseppe's work is considerably brasher than the great G.B.'s. Henley goes as far as to muse on whether the way in which the tonal quality of his instruments varies from those of his father is due to Giuseppe's carelessness or ineptitude! Contextualising, based on the erratic nature of Giuseppe's life, I would conclude the former of these two damning adjectives. It's reasonable to assume that anybody continually uprooting their life would be prone to rushing projects and trying to re-establish themselves in new locations as quickly as possible.

The viola photographed here has a particularly curious history. At some point in its life, it was cut down to be a large violin before being reverted to its original incarnation. The f-holes were re-cut at the same time. Despite the hiatus in this instrument's life, you can still appreciate some of Giuseppe's notable features about it. For instance, the way he typically opted for fairly "uneven and wide" grained woods, and favoured finishing his instruments with double purfling and a varnish that sits between "golden-amber" and an "orange-brown". This viola has been fully restored and sounds wonderful with a deep baritone quality and would make for a wonderful addition to any chamber ensemble.