A Guarneri violin in the attic: the power of dendrochronology for analysing musical instruments

Dendrochronology is the science that dates wooden artefacts by measuring annual growth rings visible in the wood. And, in the case of musical instruments, the method is non-invasive. In addition, dendrochronology can also help to identify the wood’s provenance and to supply information on how the soundboard was made, giving details of ring width and regularity. This study also demonstrates the effectiveness of dendrochronology in attributing a musical instrument to an important luthier. It deals with a privately owned violin, whose date and origin had previously remained uncertain, despite various attempts to authenticate, at least, its technical and stylistic characteristics. The outermost tree-ring of the instrument’s soundboard was dendrochronologically dated to the year 1696 and attributed, with certainty, to the Italian luthier Giuseppe Guarneri filius Andreae, father of the famous Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesù”. Thanks to dendrochronology, in this way, a twin of an already existing violin has been identified that was made by the same luthier. Both violins are identical in construction, having the same veining and dimensions, and the wood from the same tree was used in all parts, including the soundboard. Dendrochronology has, thus, been proven to be an extremely useful method, which has transformed a violin of uncertain value into a museum piece.

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