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Violin Makers in Naples: The Gagliano Legacy 1780-1820

Gagliano Violin

Scroll detail on a Joseph and Antonio Gagliano violin, Naples c. 1794, Auctioned for $105,000

As Naples emerged as a musical and cultural center of Italy, the trade of violin making became an increasingly commercial affair in order to keep up with the demand from conservatories and theater orchestras that were staging large scale opera.

In the 1780s, the Gagliano family workshop was headed by Ferdinando Gagliano, the son of Nicola. Ferdinando’s younger brothers Joseph and Antonio frequently collaborated with each other on instruments and produced what was likely the largest output of instruments bearing the family’s name.

Many of Nicola Gagliano’s violins were actually finished by his two sons Joseph and Antonio, and were made with the old stock of fine wood from the Balkan Peninsula. The brothers would finish these with their own scrolls and sell them under their father’s name.

The instruments made completely by the brothers themselves were crafted from wood that was local and much plainer. The scrolls of these violins are recognizable for their oval shape, an inner volute which was carved very small in proportion, and an elongated pegbox, designed so that strings would not rub against adjacent pegs as they were being tightened.

Other violin makers in the city began to imitate the Gagliano brothers’ style, most notably Lorenzo Ventapane, whose instruments are still often mistaken for Gagliano. Many Ventapane instruments bear a Gagliano label which may have been inserted later. His best instruments are dated from 1800 to 1830, and his violoncellos are very highly esteemed.

By 1820, most of the Neapolitan violin makers had started using a varnish that was alcohol based, and therefore much quicker to dry and get to market. The addition of coloring agents like saffron, gamboge resin from Southeast Asia, and turmeric gave the varnish a thicker body and a greenish hue. Ventapane even painted “flames” onto the backs of his violins to give them a more complex appearance.

The current market for these fine instruments from the third generation of the Gagliano family and their followers can be favorable for musicians looking for a professional quality instrument in the range of $80,000-120,000.

Read more about how the Gagliano family of violin makers got started.

Lorenzo Ventapane violin

Lorenzo Ventapane violin, Naples, c. 1810, Auctioned for $59,250

14 thoughts on “Violin Makers in Naples: The Gagliano Legacy 1780-1820

  1. Pingback: Gagliano violins | Neapolitan school | | A more affordable Italian violin

  2. Pingback: Great Gagliano!

  3. I have a gagliano alumnus of strativari 1725 alexandri neapoli copie de does this mean a copy of a strad by alex?

  4. I just received a Gagliano concert classic 1060 classical.I put a fresh set of strings on it and it really has a sweet tone.My last name is Gagliano.Several of my relatives are musicians.I am trying to find out if we are related to each other.My grand parennts came over from Agrigento Sicily. I also would like to know if they are still building instruments and selling them in Europe and USA.

  5. I have a violin that says it was made by Lorenzo Ventapane, Napoli, in 1813. As a very young student, I acquired this instrument over 50 years ago and never researched it’s maker. It was purchased from Kagan and Gaines in Chicago for approx. $500.00 How do I determine if it is truly made by Ventapane and it’s value?

  6. I have a antoniuos gagliano filius nicoli 1789 that I got from a friend whose papaw brought it from 1945 war torn Germany. I am a blue grass/ole waltz music player and I’m sure that this fiddle is way better than i’ll ever play it so my luthier says maybe I should consider selling it to a master player. i guess that I’m ready to send out some feelers to possibly sellstarting here.
    tkx tim

  7. I have a 1806 Joannes Gagliano Nepos Januatt Fecit, Neapoli Violin. It has never been strung or ever had a bridge on it since it was given to my daughter 17 years ago. Along with the violin there is a Alfons Riedl bow and a case. We live in Virginia and some one wants to buy it as is for $300.00. Do you recommend my daughter selling it?

  8. I have been ask to build a display case for a family member. The violin has a stamp saying Copy of Stradivarius Violin Made In Germany. Should there be any other markings? Is there any way to learn more about this particular violin? Best guess the violin is about 75 to 80 years old.

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