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Bartolomeo Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri, del Gesù (Italian pronunciation: [d?u'z?ppe ?war'n?:ri]; 21 August 1698 - 17 October 1744) was an Italian luthier from the Guarneri family of Cremona. He rivals Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) with regard to the respect and reverence accorded his instruments, and for many prominent players and collectors his instruments are the most coveted of all. Instruments made by Guarneri are often referred to as Del Gesùs.
Guarneri is known as del Gesù (literally "of Jesus") because his labels after 1731 incorporated the nomina sacra, I.H.S. (iota-eta-sigma) and a Roman cross. His instruments diverged significantly from family tradition, becoming uniquely his own style. They are considered equal in quality to those of Stradivari, and claimed by some to be superior. Guarneri's violins often have a darker, more robust, more sonorous tone than Stradivari's. Fewer than 200 of Guarneri's instruments survive. They are all violins, although one cello bearing his father's label, dated 1731, seems to have been completed by del Gesù. The quality and scarcity of his instruments have resulted in sale prices in excess of $10 million USD.
The most illustrious member of the house of Guarneri, Bartolomeo was the son of Giuseppe Giovanni Battista, thus the grandson of Andrea Guarneri, both noted violin makers themselves. Andrea learned his trade as an apprentice of Nicolò Amati, to whom Stradivari was also apprenticed. Undoubtedly, Giuseppe learned the craft of violinmaking in his father's shop.
Giuseppe Guarneri's style has been widely copied by luthiers since the 19th century. Guarneri's career is a great contrast to that of Stradivari, who was stylistically consistent, very careful about craftsmanship and finish, and evolved the design of his instruments in a deliberate way over seven decades. Guarneri's career was short, from the late 1720s until his death in 1744. Initially he was thought to be a man of restless creativity, judging by his constant experimentation with f-holes, arching, thicknesses of the top and back and other design details. However, what has become clear is that, like other members of his family, he was so commercially overshadowed by his illustrious and business-savvy neighbor, Antonio Stradivari, that he was unable to command prices commensurate with his rival, hence needed to make more instruments and work hastily. Indeed, two of the five violin makers of the Guarneri family, the two Pietros--of different generations--left Cremona, the first for Mantua, the second for Venice, apparently because business prospects in Cremona were so stunted by the presence of Stradivari. From the 1720s until about 1737, Guarneri's work is quick and accurate, although he was not obsessed with quality of finish. However, from the late 1730s until his death, his work shows increasing haste and lack of patience with the time needed to achieve a high quality finish. Some of his late violins from circa 1742 to 1744 have scrolls that can be crudely carved, the purfling hastily inserted, the f-holes unsymmetrical and jagged.
Nonetheless, many of these late violins, in spite of the seeming haste and carelessness of their construction, possess a glorious tone and have been much coveted by soloists. His output falls off rather dramatically in the late 1730s, and the eccentricity of the works following that period gave rise to the romantic notion that he had been imprisoned for killing a rival violin maker (actually it was one of the Lavazza brothers in Milan to whom this occurred), and even the unlikely fiction that he made violins in prison. Such stories were invented during the nineteenth century and were repeated by the biographers of the Guarneri family, the Hills, in their 1931 work; while the Hills did not take them at face-value, it did feed into their idea that Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù must have been temperamental and mercurial, rather than simply overworked and commercially unsuccessful. More recent data shows that business was so bad during the later period of his life that he had to relegate violin-making to the sideline and earn his living as an innkeeper (refuting the "prison" myth).
It has also become known that some of the violins emanating from his shop and bearing his label were actually the work of his German wife, Caterina Roda, who apparently returned to Germany after her husband's death in 1744. While every other member of his family, the Stradivari family, Nicolò Amati, and a peculiarly large number of makers, lived long lives--Stradivari living and working to age 93--Guarneri died at only 46. There is thus the possibility that the odd qualities of finish in his later instruments--ironically, those most highly prized and expensive--were due not only to stress and haste but also to encroaching illness. It is also worth noting that the tone of both Stradivari and Guarneri did not come into their own until late in the 18th century, that the high-built instruments of Amati and Stainer were the only ones prized during the 18th century. While it is true that players, then as now, preferred old instruments, Stradivari made one of the handsomest livings of all violin makers during his lifetime. It is also customary to conflate Stradivari and Guarneri in this regard, but even the Hills hinted that such was not the case in their styles, the Guarneri always bearing traces of Amati, and even Stainer, the latter Stradivari "would have none of." Moreover, Guarneri's instruments were recognized by a world-class soloist three decades before Stradivari's were likewise championed; by the 1750s, Gaetano Pugnani is known to have acquired and preferred a Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù violin, but it is not until the 1780s that his pupil, Giovanni Battista Viotti, became an advocate of Stradivari instruments. Of course, Pugnani's advocacy is usually forgotten when Paganini became the most noted Giuseppe Guarneri player three generations later.
Virtuoso Niccolò Paganini's favorite violin, Il Cannone Guarnerius of 1743, and the Lord Wilton of 1742, once owned by Yehudi Menuhin, are del Gesù instruments. In addition, the Vieuxtemps Guarneri--once owned by Henri Vieuxtemps--was sold in 2013 close to its asking price of $18 million USD, making it the most expensive instrument in the world. Jascha Heifetz owned a c. 1740 Guarneri del Gesù from the 1920s until his death in 1987. It was his favorite instrument, even though he owned several Stradivaris.
Castelbarco(Castelbarco-Tarisio), Haddock, Bromley Booth, c. 1732-33, Cozio 43676, now in the collection of Chi Mei Foundation. Taiwan's violinist Yu-Chien Tseng (at age 20) won the silver prize (gold not awarded) in 2015 XV International Tchaikovsky Competition with this violin.
'The Cathedral', George Enescu, 1731. In 2008, after a competition organized by the Romanian Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs and the Romanian National Museum "George Enescu", the violin has been entrusted to violinist Gabriel Croitoru and is again played in concerts.
Prince of Orange, Wald, Hoffmann, 1744, Cozio 42581, displayed by the Prague National Museum
Lord Coke, 1744, Cozio 40415
de Bériot, 1744, Cozio 43991
Cariplo, Hennel, Rosé, 1744, Cozio 41962
Ole Bull, 1744, Cozio 40453, acquired by Taiwan's Chi Mei Foundation in 1992. In catalogue of Ingles & Hayday and Artes-Violins, Milano, 2010. The violin has been widely believed to be the last work of Guarneri del Gesù.