17 October 2022

Discover the influence the Italian Renaissance had on the violin making world

By Lark Music

With over 40 years of experience working with some of the finest instruments in existence, Florian Leonhard has dedicated his life to studying, restoring, and making violins. His latest contribution to the music world comes in the form of his book, The Makers of Tuscany, a much-needed addition to the understanding of this important region of violin making. We sat down with Florian to discuss some of the discoveries revealed within this book.

Congratulations on the release of your new book ‘The Makers of Tuscany’! Can you tell us more about how the initial idea took shape, and how the research led by organologist Maria da Gloria Leitao Venceslau influenced and inspired you? How long did it take?

The project is the culmination of a decade of research that started with my previous book – ‘The Makers of Central Italy’ which dealt with the Marche and Umbria regions.

I thought at the time, in order to complete the belt of Italy along from the centre, I should do the other central Italian state – Tuscany. Tuscany is quite different from Umbria and Marche because of its famous cultural centre of Florence that has always had an impact on the whole state. I wanted to show off the cultural significance that the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance had on the violin-making world, as it’s vastly overshadowed by the northern region, and makers from Cremona, Turin, Milan, and Venice.

Your book presents some new significant discoveries around the Tuscan makers. Can you tell us more about your research methodology? What’s your starting point for expert analysis and digging deeper into some of the knowledge you reveal in your work? How different was your approach while working in collaboration with the organologist?

Having worked with and restored old Italian violins all my life, I am always interested in the details that define each maker’s character and workmanship, and the use of material. I noticed that attributions didn’t always seem to match what I observed from different makers, and I thought I would like to clear this up. In order to do this, I had to have a structured approach which entailed finding reference examples to compare other instruments to, and also to know more about the lives of the makers.  I was helped by my researcher Gloria to search for particular makers in the various archives, which included the Medici court archives.

Was there any discovery you made in the course of writing this book that took you most by surprise? If so, can you give any examples? Cristofori is a name most associated with the piano. Can you tell us more about your work that focuses on him? Did you discover information that wasn’t previously or widely known?

One of the examples was the life of the mysterious and famous Bartolomeo Cristofori, who is best known for having invented the fortepiano. This man became the Medici Court’s instrument archivist, in addition to being the maker of keyboard instruments like harpsichords, as well as his own invention – the now famous fortepiano.  We have found letters and invoices relating to his relationship with that court, which gave us a nice picture of his activities.

Florian’s book, The Makers of Tuscany has been released and is available to purchase here.

Some of your work focuses on the analysis of labels – can you tell us more about that? What methods does it involve and what kind of insight can it give?

I have a large label collection that I have compiled over the last 40 years and, with that as well as the reference examples that I have now found, I decided to ask a specialist in interpreting handwriting of the Eighteenth Century in Florence to analyse each of the handwritten labels. Unlike in other Italian cities, the Florentine makers often used handwritten labels, which has been really interesting to explore.

What are the areas of your research that need further exploration in future?

In this book I explored Tuscany, which one could see was not without the strong influence of Florence, and found that many questions were left unanswerable for the time being.  This was largely either a product of missing documents, illegible documents, or the names not being there at all. I made all efforts to mark this clearly in the book so that any future researcher can add to the recent discoveries made in this publication.

By closely examining these instruments, what more have you learnt about these makers?

One thing I’m particularly proud of is my research on the two makers Luigi and Gaspero Piattellini. The book will enable readers to easily understand the timeline of their work in a new way, as I have structured when the individual instruments were made, a task which has been hugely enlightening. The newly confirmed dates and with that their periods of making, has done much to clarify and establish those makers’ oeuvres, partly with the help of dendrochronology, use of materials and endless stylistic analysis.

How will these latest discoveries help the contemporary violin makers in shaping their knowledge and skills when making new instruments? Would these findings help them to have a better understanding of the craftsmanship of this era? How does it help the violin-making world?

In short, a book like this helps to quench the thirst for knowledge of the past of violin making. This is the reason why I embarked on the project. It has been really heart-warming that, my colleagues who are world-leaders in their fields, who attended Mondomusica this year, most were present at the book launch. To see something you have created and spent a decade of your life working on, received so warmly and with such interest by your community is hugely rewarding.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your work to date?

Interestingly, since the book was published I have already learned more news about makers from this region – every time one does some research and others find out about it, they then add their ideas. As a result of this book, I have already seen on the day of release, another violin by a small maker from provincial Tuscany. It is a book that will continue to inspire further exploration and discovery.

Want to find out more about Florian or connect?


Facebook – Florian Leonhard Fine Violins

Twitter – @FlorianLeonhard

Instagram – @florianleonhard

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