Giovanni Battista Guadagnini

The details of Giovanni Battista Guadagnini’s life are often contested by experts, as he received little international recognition for his work during his lifetime. It wasn’t until many years after his death that he became recognized as one of the greatest Italian luthiers of all time. He was most likely born in Piacenza, Italy in 1711. Some literature claims that his father, Lorenzo, was a violin maker drawn to Piacenza by the untapped market demanding instruments for church chamber orchestras. Whether or not Lorenzo was a violin maker, G.B. claimed his father as his teacher on labels in his early instruments. These instruments date back to 1740.

In 1749, Guadagnini moved to Milan, where many luthiers at the time were producing violins commercially to meet growing international demand for the instrument. Guadagnini’s more individualistic work helped shift the value towards fine craftsmanship in Milan. His work there was bolder than in Piacenza, and as an independent luthier he found reasonable success.

At some point, it’s likely Guadagnini spent several months in Cremona. Even a short time in the city would have improved his credibility as a maker at the time. In Cremona he met Paolo Stradivari, the son of famed luthier Antonio Stradivari. Around 1757, the Bourbon Duke of Parma, Don Felipe, sponsored Guadagnini’s move to Parma. For many years Don Felipe supported Guadagnini, and his work improved noticeably. However, when Don Felipe died Guadagnini failed to find a significant replacement for his support. In 1771, he moved to Turin.

In Turin, Guadagnini was lucky to meet Count Cozio di Salabue. The count was still a young man but he had already developed a great love for collecting fine violins. Cozio saw promise in Guadagnini’s work and encouraged him to take on more aspects of the Stradivarian style. It’s possible Cozio even supplied Guadagnini with the original varnish recipe of Antonio Stradivari. In any case, several aspects of Guadagnini’s work took on uncanny Stradivarian qualities. On some of his labels he claimed to be a direct student of Stradivari, though this has almost certainly proved to be more of a tribute than a legitimate claim.

Guadagnini’s work in Turin is most often regarded as his finest. He set off a centuries long tradition of fine violin making in Turin, which Giovanni Francesco Pressenda and Giuseppe Rocca perpetuated. He trained his four sons, Gaetano, Giuseppe, Carlo, and Filippo as assistants but none of them achieved the profound and prolific excellence of their father.