Violin by Giuseppe Sgarbi, Finale Emilia, Italy, 1853


Description — Seductive
Where to start to describe such a stupendous violin? The level of sophistication in the choice of finest tonewood, personal model, unique arching, soundhole design, and of course the astounding inlaid decorations, lift this violin onto another artistic plane. I feel deference towards this violin, aware that much of its intricacies go way above my head. Just think of the time it took to imagine the inlay, draw it, cut it into ebony and the matching inner pieces of wood, and then insert it into the back with precisely the right
Detail of the lower back.
thickness and curve to fit the arch. I don't know how Giuseppe Sgarbi did it. A fascinating part of this violin is the different belly and back arching. Both have a high and full arch, but while the belly's rises gently from the middle bouts to a curved summit, the back's rises steeply and takes a tight turn onto a flat longitudinal central area. At the upper and lower bouts, the back slopes in full, round curves that fill the circles drawn by the inlay. It's the stylized three-dimensional sculpture of a woman's back. Following on this analogy, the varnish, beautifully integrated into the wood (as if it grew on it), looks like human skin of Italian tone. Letting one's mind wander, the decorations can evoke Italian lustrous hair, or black lace, or tattoos, or your wildest fantasy.

Decorations are reserved to areas hidden from public view.
Tone — Takes Hold of You
The first note grabs you, straight to the heart, and the violin doesn't let go of you. It's kind of a "booming" effect over the whole tessitura. Each note you play, with its instantaneous whoosh, clean response, sheer volume, and poetry hits you passionately. Something truly unique to this Sgarbi, is the lack of edge in the sound. The piercing overtones that can make typical violins sound shrill are simply absent, replaced by velvet. It's ideal to play violin-piano sonatas. The tone beauty, based on the [u:] vowel, is mesmerizing, expressing the darkness of pain as well as the joy of revelation. Playing this violin is a sensory experience one can't forget. As in contemplative meditation, one just wants to enjoy and be thankful for such a blessing.

Maker — Patriotic
The label translation reads, "GIUSEPPE SGARBI N.8 nicknamed Favino made in Finale di Modena his Motherland, on Year 1853."
I've been surprised at how little is known of Giuseppe Sgarbi's life and work. Reference authors appear to have been copying each other, concurring on the following:
  • "preferred a flat model" (Lütgendorff, 1922)
  • "nicknamed Jarino" (Vannes, 1951)
  • "wood not always well chosen" (Hamma, 1964)
  • "red-brown varnish" (Nicolini, 2008)
  • "rather careless workmanship and design" (Dilworth, 2012).
Well, they certainly hadn't seen this violin, which displays precisely the opposite! From the label we learn that Sgarbi's nickname was "Favino." This is his 8th violin, not much for a 35-year-old maker exhibiting such skill. Perhaps he learned his craft late; or he was busy building violas, cellos and double basses;
or possibly he was slowed down by the Italian War of Independence. Actually, he uses this label as a patriotic claim, declaring allegiance to his hometown, "Finale di Modena sua Patria." In 1861, just eight years after this violin was made, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, and in 1863 the name of his hometown changed from "Finale di Modena" to "Finale Emilia."

Strings — Setting Her Free
The optimal strings enter into the violin's natural resonances, both tonally and volume-wise. It's the violin you should hear, not the strings. Too much tension on the bridge and it sounds like the strings are trying to impose a big tone on the poor instrument who shuts down in reaction. Too little tension and it feels like the violin's full potential is out of reach. Then a string brand can sound sweet on a given violin, because they bring out its inner sweetness, and bitter on another. The same is true for bows, and all parts of the setup for that matter (bridge, soundpost, etc.). On this Sgarbi, for now, I'm playing the standard combination of Thomastik Dominant strings with Lenzner Goldbrokat E. Their light weight and round tone liberate its essence and power. You don't pressure the sound out of this Sgarbi, you let her sing.

The head, unfortunately, had to undergo major restoration. The only original parts I can identify for sure are the volutes and the pegbox interior upper half. Nevertheless, this is a most lovely Sgarbi scroll.

More about this Violin:
More about Giuseppe Sgarbi:
Measurements & Data
Maker: Giuseppe "Favino" Sgarbi (1818-1905)
Made in: Finale Emilia (Modena), Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Year: 1853
Number: 8
Back Length: 359 mm *
Upper Bouts: 170 mm *
Middle Bouts: 113 mm *
Lower Bouts: 210 mm *
Stop Length: 195 mm
Rib Height at Neck: 29.5 mm *
Rib Height at Endpin: 31 mm *
Thickness of the Top: 3.0 mm
Thickness of the Back: 4.6 mm
F-hole Length: 79.7 mm *
Distance Between F-holes: 39.5 mm *
Distance Edge-Purfling: 3 - 3.5 mm
Scroll Width: 41.5 mm *
Weight: 403 grams
detto Favino
fece in Finale di Modena
sua Patria, l' Anno 1853 .

Label Translation:
nicknamed Favino
made in Finale di Modena
his Motherland, on Year 1853 .

Inlay: Ebony foliate inlay on the back at the upper bout from the button down, at the four corners, and at the lower end; also around the endpin.
Condition: Very good for its age. Overall only a couple of minor cracks and a broken edge. The back is pristine. Neck and pegbox were replaced.
Eric Blot
, Cremona, Italy, 2006.
D. R. Hill & Son, Little Missenden, England, 2016.

* measured with a caliper

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