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Reference Library Articles

Giovanni Francesco Celoniatus

Active ca 1730-1750, Turin

Celoniatus is one of the charming and distinctive makers of the early Turin school. His work is consistent in finish and style, and is limited only by the relative lack of tonal power that his elegant Amati-like arching can provide.

He worked in Turin in the first half of the eighteenth century, following closely on from Giofredo Cappa (1644-1717) who is widely assumed to have been his teacher. Although Charles Beare writes in the Grove Dictionary of Music that Celoniatus and Spiritus Sorsana both participated in Cappa's later instruments, it is not easy to see the closeness of style that might be expected from such a relationship. Both Sorsana and Cappa have a certain rugged quality both in detail and overall finish. Celoniatus was almost too preoccupied with detail, working the slim edges to a flat but well-defined channel, with small, precisely formed corners.

All the Turin makers used beech in the purfling and linings, and Celoniatus is no exception. The only problem there is that so many of the non-Cremonese makers followed suit. In fact beech is so commonly seen in the structure of Roman, Bolognese, and Neapolitan instruments that it appears that the Cremonese were the exceptions in preferring poplar and pine.

Nevertheless, there are other significant connections between Cappa and Celoniatus. The heads are generally rather large and freely carved. Celoniatus worked very neatly and with an eye for symmetry, but the volute is far from being a true geometrical spiral, with a strong upright oval form and diminished inner turns which stop quite short at the eye. The distinctive pegbox is slender and slightly swan-necked, running parallel between the middle pegs. The central spine of the head runs high of the edge all around the very smooth and even fluting. Like Cappa, Celoniatus used rather large locating pins in the upper and lower edges of the plates, prominently placed on the centre line, well within the purfling. From a constructional point of view it is interesting to note that both makers formed their rib joints into long mitres with the seam in the middle, in the style of other early northern European makers with Fussen origins. We can be fairly sure that the Turin school, like most other Italian centres of violin making, was originally brought into being by Tyrolean-trained craftsmen.

Celoniatus' F holes also have the close, slanted setting of Cappa's, but they are altogether more neatly cut, with slender arms, small nicks and wide, well fluted lower wings. They recall Giovanni Grancino's soundholes in many ways, and both reflect the influence of Stradivari imposed on what is still basically an Amati pattern. Celoniatus' model is in fact rather elongated, with extended upper bouts. This can have the effect of increasing the stop length, which can sometimes be up to 200mm.

The most attractive thing about Celoniatus for me however is his choice of wood and varnish. The wood is usually of distinctive quality, not necessarily the conventional tiger-stripe, but always well-figured. He frequently used Oppio, the Italian field maple, which often yields a tight, interlocked flame. One-piece backs are common too, with well-flecked, flawless maple. Over this wood he used a very delicately coloured varnish, never the strong reds and browns that Cappa employed, but a glowing gold, possibly a little thinner and harder than Cappa's, but all the same, very fine, and very, very handsome.