Violins Guarneri Family of Violin Makers

Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu

The most illustrious member of this famous family of violin makers was Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri(Cremona, Italy, 1698-1744), the fifth and last member of the family, grandson of Andrea, son of Giuseppe Giovanni Battista. He is more familiarly known as Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu. Guarnerius is the Latin form of the family name and Joseph the Hebrew form of Giuseppe. The addition of "del Gesu" to the name and the Greek abbreviation for Jesus (IHS) beneath a cross on the labels indicate veneration for the Holy Name.

The outline of his violins, with slight modifications, is founded on instruments of Antonio Stradivari. Modeling of the back and table are noticeably flattened, seemingly inspired by Maggini. The F holes are of Stradivari form but are usually elongated, more open, and less refined. The carefully applied oil varnish is soft in quality and of light texture, with the color varying between pale orange and orange-brown with, occasionally, a reddish tint. The length of the body is usually 13 7/8", sometimes 1/16" less.

The estimate of his total production is not more than 250 violins; there is no positive evidence that he made instruments in any other form, although some violas and at least one violoncello are attributed to him. Approximately 150 violins are known to exist.

Stradivari and Guarnerius are ranked as the greatest of violin makers, and some fine violinists prefer the instruments of Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu to those of Stradivari.

Typical label: Joseph Guarnerius fecit Cremonae anno 1737 IHS

Other Violin Makers of the Family

Andrea Guarneri (Cremona, Italy, 1626-98), founder of the family, was a fellow apprentice of Stradivari in the workshop of Nicolo Amati. Approximately 250 violins, 4 violas, and 14 violoncellos by him are thought to exist. They are not as fine as instruments made by his grandson, Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu.

Typical label: Andreas Guarnerius fecit Cremonae sub titulo Sanctae Teresiae 1670 (i.e., under the patronage of Saint Theresa)

Pietro Giovanni Guarneri, born in Cremona in 1655, was the elder son of Andrea. Known as Peter Guarnerius of Mantua, he worked there from 1680 until his death in 1720. His violins are esteemed but not numerous. He probably did not make violas or violoncellos.

Typical label: Petrus Guarnerius Cremonensis fecit Mantua sub tit: Sanctae Teresiae, 1695

Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri (1666-1739 or 1740), known as Joseph Guarnerius filius Andreae, was the second son of Andrea. He made possibly as many violins as his father and a few more violoncellos. No violas are known. His work is overshadowed by that of other family members.

Typical label: Joseph Guarnerius filius Andreae fecit Cremonae sub titulo S. Teresie, 1712

Pietro Guarneri, known as Peter Guarnerius of Venice (1695-1762), was the older brother of Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu. He worked with his uncle Pietro in Mantua and then on his own in Venice until his death. His instruments are less esteemed than those of his uncle.

Typical label: Petrus Guarnerius filius Joseph Cremonensis fecit Venetiis anno 1740

Prepared by the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment
in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, Smithsonian Institution
PIMS/MUS23/rev 9-97