The cultural reality of Italy in modern times has been
characterised by great richness and variety. The presence of numerous
small independent States, together with the ambitions of prestige
of the various Courts, have left many original artistic expressions.
Naturally the history of violin-making also benefits from the postive
effects of this general situation. Parma, which is approximately
sixty kilometres south of Cremona and just over a hundred from Milan
has always been one of the most active centres in northern Italy.
We have incomplete accounts about Giovanni Maria del Bussetto,
who worked in the 16th or perhaps in the following century in the
style of the Amati, and about Ottavio Smidt, a maker
coming from Germany specialized in the construction of plucked instruments.
At the end of the 17th century we find Domenico Galli, an
eclectic artist, who made two gorgeously decorated instruments for
the Estense Dukedom, and which are now conserved in Modena.
At the beginning of the 18th century several
luthiers who are now highly regarded were active in Parma: Andrea
Borelli (1703-61) and his son Antonio; Carlo Broschi
who worked during the first half of the century; Andrea Gisalberti,
for whom, according to Vannes, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù
worked as an apprentice.
Gisalberti was almost at the end of his career when, in 1758, Giovanni
Battista Guadagnini arrived in Parma. Guadagnini (Bilegno
1711- Turin 1786) was born in the foothills of Piacenza; it used
to be believed that Giovanni Battista was initiated to the
profession by his father Lorenzo; however recently more exhaustive
studies have questioned whether his father had ever been a luthier.
Certainly Giovanni Battista lived initially in Piacenza,
then in Milan and, after a brief stay in Cremona, he moved
to Parma. The reason why the luthier moved so many times is no doubt
based on his necessity to find the environment best suited to his
profession and from this point of view Parma offered many
In fact Parma was governed by Felipe di Borbone who, together
with his Prime Minister Du Tillot, aspired to transform the
ducal city into a small European capital. Felipe was a cultured
sovereign, a lover of the arts, and of music in particular. Consequently
Parma soon became one of the most active musical centres in the
country. The Court orchestra numbered among its members some of
the most valid Italian and European musicians; among these we find
the cellist Carlo Ferrari, whose friendship with Guadagnini
dated back to the times of Piacenza. The luthier decided to follow
Ferrari and was soon contacted by the Court to work with the orchestra's
musicians, repairing instruments and building new ones. Guadagnini's
work must have been highly appreciated because in 1765 the Dukedom
granted him a pension for the work he was performing. However in
the meantime Duke Felipe had died and Du Tillot was progressively
loosing influence, with the result that the economic conditions
of the Borbonic Court declined and the attraction exerted on artists
started to wane. Evidently Guadagnini bacame anxious with
regards to the future of his numerous family, and requested permission
to move to Turin. Du Tillot granted the luthier the sum of
money necessary for the journey, so in 1771 Guadagnini left
for the Piedmontese capital, where musicians like Viotti
and Pugnani were active.
From then on the influence of the Guadagnini family on the
evolution of violin-making was significant expecially in Piedmont.
In the territories of Parma and Piacenza the makers who may be associated
with Giovanni Battista are Gaspare Lorenzini (Piacenza 1724-1821)
and Felix Mori Costa, whose instruments are held in high
esteem to this day.