The first question I had to ask concerning these paper patterns was regarding their authenticity. Were they actual material from the Stradivari shop, or were they additions to the collection from later makers such as Bergonzi, Guadagnini or Ceruti?
The answer to this is complicated and it does seem that Stradivari’s use of the shield volute for bowed instruments was a design first, even if it was used some years later by Guarneri del Gesu on his small pochette and by Bergonzi on a viol. There is of course the possibility that the templates represent instruments that were planned but never made. This idea though is not justifiable since there are a number of wooden forms in Paris at the Cité de la Musique that seem to be from the Stradivari workshop that show wear consistent with them having been used multiple times for the construction of instruments. There are also two extant instruments from the workshop of Stradivari that correspond to the corner-less body outlines of these templates and there is a neck of a viola d’amore in the Cité de la Musique (E.484) that has some of the characteristics of the paper patterns including a form that is unusually short for the number of pegs that it must carry. (See illustration.) There is another instrument in the Yale University Hill house collection by Bergonzi that also has a corner-less outline as does a viola d’amore by the Cremonese maker Lorenzo Storione that is probably a copy of an original Stradivari instrument.
The first stage of the process was to review the original templates in Cremona and determine if the paper on them was from the 16 or 1700’s. Secondly to look for compass point impressions, pin holes, inked indications, impressed lines and other features. This done, it was determined that the patterns for the viola d’amore’s came for a period after 1700. Furthermore, the distribution of peg-holes on the neck and peg-box design seemed to indicate that the few existing templates were from a more extensive series that had been dispersed or discarded, since there were indications on them of changes such as varied peg positions that indicated a progression of ideas over time.
Based on my own research I believe that when the Stradivari shop started the design work for a new instrument they would commence with a calculation based on the projected string length and tuning of the instrument. A certain string length would require a certain body length and air volume and so on. In turn they would design the construction so that the instrument’s equipoise fell on a certain position. The calculation of this equipoise determined the principal width dimensions of the instrument, which was arrived at through a simple geometric scheme. For the viola d’amore, which differed slightly in its construction from the violin, the inside length of the sound box was divided into three parts. Then with a series of compass arcs an equilateral triangle 1/3 of the body length per side was constructed in the bridge area of the plan. A circle drawn relative to the area of this triangle determined the width of the instrument at its waist and the exact placement of the eyes of the ffs. We are very lucky in this respect that the Museo del Violino (Cremona’s violin museum) still has the construction drawings for the ff-hole placement of one of the viola d’amores. In the drawing, which has my construction overlaid on it, there are a couple of different placements for the eyes of the ffs, one drawn by Antonio for an earlier ten string model of the instrument and another rendered by Francesco for a later twelve string design. (See illustration.) In the later model the eyes of the ffs marked B have been placed closer to the outline of the instrument in order to allow extra room for the wider bridge. This practice of placing the ffs close to the outline was common with Francesco’s work on violins, especially after 1727. Francesco’s placement of the bridge for the instrument is also slightly higher than his father’s, presumably to keep the combined tension of the strings similar to the longer string length of the ‘A’ version of the viola d’amore. We find a similar construction for the central bridge area in most of the Stradivari instruments. A further interesting design change proposed was the lengthening of the lower end of the instrument to increase the air volume and therefore the tonal response of the added lower string.
The paper patterns were part of the material for each design in the Stradivari shop and they were usually kept together in paper envelopes that signified the model, form MB, etc, or in rare cases also the client for whom the instrument was destined.
For example, the original paper packets which held the forms (C. M. C. # 602-631) have, in a number of instances, the names of the institutions or persons for whom the commissions were carried out. Some of these read: VDG (viola da gamba), GDF 1687, P, T, S, B, FN, + , SL, CV, PG, P 1705 Marchese Carbonelli di Mantova VDM. 12.1716 (viola d’amore) and mandolino coristo. The envelope for the small Stradivari mandolino, contains the inscription Per St. Stefano. St. Stefano is one of the parish churches of Cremona.
In the case of the viola d’amore of the corner-less pattern the templates that exist in Cremona include: (1) the body outline, with indications of the blocks, ff hole eyes, and rib height; (2) the neck with indications of peg placement peg-box width and neck width; (3) a model of the bridge indicating the bridge height and height of the under-stings and bridge width; (4) a small shield indicating the shape of the scroll finial. I could not get access to the collection to search for the ff hole patterns but I was able to use copies of the patterns that were recorded by me in 1977, and which had enough information to design an appropriate ff hole model. I received a great deal of help from Sig. Andrea Mosconi who gave me copies of the 1/1 photographs of the relevant paper patterns.
To be continued…