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Reference Library Articles

Giovanni Battista and Giacomo Zanoli

It often seems as if every parish in Italy was home to a family of gifted violin makers at some time or other, but just occasionally you notice an unaccountable absence of lutherie. In Verona, one of the great cities of the Veneto, only two gentlemen appear to have followed the call of the violin. Giovanni Battista and Giacomo Zanoli receive little attention generally, and this is a shame.

They were very fine makers in the Stainer mould, father and son. The elder was active in the first half of the eighteenth century, and his son Giacomo worked from around 1737 to 1761. The first evidence of Giacomo's work is a pencil signature inside a cello made in Padua in 1737, and in 1742 he was registered to serve his jury duty in Venice, but there is no evidence that he remained there for any length of time. There is no obvious precedent for their work in Verona, nor did any significant followers take up the profession afterward. Perhaps the proximity to Venice- Verona came under its jurisdiction at that time- mean that there was too much competition from the community of makers there. The letter 'Z' in Italian often indicates a Venetian origin as the local dialect softens the 'G' and 'Z' sound to a similar soft aspirant. Only a handful of Italian makers share the initial, and Zanetto, Zanottus and Zanoli sometimes become confused, although their work could not be more different.

Verona did certainly have its quota of German lute makers, like everywhere else in Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and it was probably from this seed bed that the Zanoli cultivated their skills as instrument makers. The model is distinctly German, with squared arching, and there is the added quirk of using walnut for the internal linings of the ribs, a mannerism usually associated with Tyrolean makers.

That detail aside, Giacomo's work is very sophisticated, and very much of the late classical Italian school, likely perhaps to mistaken for Roman rather than Venetian, but totally distinctive. He used a very fine light orange-brown varnish, and the workmanship is of good quality, his outline well regulated, with deeply curved centre bouts and a slight tendency to flatness across the lower bout. The edges are well defined and rounded, but a little ragged in finish and purfling, with rather short corners and pinched mitres. The soundholes are very Tyrolean, with a broad, upright stance, and cut vertically to the plane of the ribs, not radial to the arch as in most Italian work. The lower wings are left unfluted. Fairly large pins are used to locate the back onto the upper and lower blocks, positioned well inside the line of the purfling.

The head is particularly distinctive, consisting of a long and fairly parallel pegbox, shallow and a little pointed at the chin and quite wide and substantial at the throat, surmounted by a large, tightly curled volute. The second turn has quite a large radius, but arrives nicely at the eye in a well regulated final cut. The chamfer and flutings can be a little uneven, and halfway down the front face of the volute the flutes stop abruptly, as in the heads of the early Amati.

Giacomo Zanoli produced some excellent cellos, in which the Venetian influence is strong and obvious, the outline and proportion derived from Montagnana, and the head apparently from Serafin. A heady cocktail, and an often overlooked reminder of the city that inspired playwrights more than violin makers.