The craftswoman slowly moves the finely sharpened chisel lovingly, in long slow strokes, across what will be the back of the violin. A high intensity light illuminates her dust covered hands as notes of a violin concerto by Antonio Vivaldi float through the workshop.
I was introduced to the Vettori family by Joan Balter, luthier. I met Joan at a gathering in the home of Stefano Magazzini and Janet Shapiro, owners of Sagittario Olive Oil, near the Florentine town of Impruneta. She has worked with the restoration and care of vintage instruments, including Stradivari and Cristofori. Her expertise is widely known and respected across the violin making world. She is the official luthier of the Aspen Music Festival and has been featured in many publications, including the New York Times.
The Vettori family’s workshop is located but a few steps north of the Monastery of San Marco, almost across the street from Cosimo I de’ Medici’s Orto dei Semplici. For the past three generations, the Vettori family has created musical instruments – violins, violas and cellos. The workshop space is spare, purposeful. Instruments hang from the ceiling, custom made instruments in various stages of finish work are being quietly attended to by the third generation of the Vettori family – Dario II, Sofia and Lapo.
I will defer to the family’s history, provided to me by the current Vettori family. In their own words…
“Dario I Vettori was born in Firenzuola, in the province of Florence in Upper Mugello, on 19th November 1903. He lived and worked there all his life and became known as ‘The Violin-Maker of the Mountain”
His initial interest in the violin was as a musician. He was the pupil of Emilio Benelli and his brother Vasco Vettori, who studied at the Conservatory in Imola. He later became the violist of the Quartetto Benelli.
He developed a passion for violin-making and became Primo Contavalli’s pupil. The instruments from this initial period have very deep fluting with excessive relief on the edges and very hard modelling of corners.
In 1937 at Stradivari’s bicentenary celebration Dario met Ornati, who subsequently became his principal inspiration.
Ornati’s influence (and through him, that of the Cremonese School) can be seen in the instruments completed in the fifties onwards.
The edges are lighter, rounder and the fluting more shallow. However, on the lower wings of the f-holes, the fluting remains more accentuated than those of Ornati. In his earliest work Dario used Stradivari models but later moved to those of Guarneri del Gesu. While using both the internal and external forms, he always carried out the purfling with the body closed.
He made use of local woods originating from trees that he himself selected in the mountains of the Tuscan Apennines.
Dario established very close contacts with other contemporary Tuscan violin makers such as Fernando Ferroni from whom he learned to use the external form and the fitting of linings over corner blocks (in willow or linden) which Ferroni had inherited from Cesaro Candi of Genoa.
After Ferroni’s death, it was Dario who inherited his molds and tools.
His only two pupils were his sons Carlo and Paolo.
Various awards were presented to him: three gold medals at the Exhibition of Genova-Pegli, in 1956, 1958 and 1960; a silver medal in Florence; a gold medal at the Exhibition of Cremona in 1965 for a quartet. During his life, Dario made 156 violins, 37 violas, 2 violoncellos and 2 quartets.
He died on 12th June 1973.
Paolo Vettori was born in Firenzuola in 1945, a small city in the Tosco-Romagnolo Appennini mountains and is the fifth-eldest son of Dario (1903-1973), known as “il liutaio della montagna”. He started working in his father’s workshop at a very early age. ‘In the 1960s Paolo visited Carlo Bisaich’s violin workshop with his father and was fascinated by the instruments, models, molds and charisma of the important master. In the 1970s, he moved to Florence, where he was a frequent visitor and observer at the violin workshops of Alpo Casini and Sderci, where he received precious and important advice. When Giuseppe Stefanini moved from Brescia to Florence in 1986, the two craftsmen became acquainted and a deep, long-lasting friendship developed.
Paolo acquired various techniques, models for violin-making and formulae for varnishes exclusive to the Bisiach family, with whom Stefanini collaborated closely for many decades. Paolo has already built more than 300 instruments including violins, violas and violoncellos, employing a great variety of models, many of which came from Carlo Bisiach’s workshop, acquired in 1997 after the death of Sderci; the very same molds and tools that had taken his fascination in 1963 in the violin workshop in Via Puccinotti 94, avoiding in this way their dispersion. Paolo’s construction technique and style show strong traces of his father’s influence, but also of his immense experience acquired over the years. At this time, he works in his workshop in Via della Dogana with his two sons Dario II and Lapo and his daughter Sofia, everyone signing the instruments with their own labels. Together, the family continues to follow the tradition and the great adventure started by “grandfather Dario” in 1935. In 2005 they celebrated 70 years of violin-making.
DARIO VETTORI II
Dario Vettori II was born in Fiesole in 1979. He is the eldest son of Paolo and the grandson of Dario known as “il liutaio della montagna”. His interest in the world of music started at a very early age, studying cello at the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence. He also attended the faculty of Literature, devoting himself to the study of Art History.
At the age of eighteen he decided to dedicate himself full-time to violin making, entering his father’s workshop and enrolling with the ALI Professionisti in 2001. He had the chance to meet several well-known violin makers and to spend a considerable amount of time in the United States, working in violin-making workshops, such as Christophe Landon in New York, in Washington DC, Texas and taking Varnish and Acoustic Masterclasses in Oberlin (Ohio). This gave him the opportunity to learn restoration techniques and to admire original old instruments.
For the construction of his instruments he uses the molds and models from his family’s workshop, most of them originally belonging to Carlo Bisiach’s collection, once owned by Igino Sderci. The wide variety of models employed in the Vettori’s workshop is consisting of Guarneri “del Gesù”, Pietro Guarneri da Mantova, Stradivari, Carlo Bergonzi, Camillo Camilli, Balestrieri, Nicolò Gagliano, Francesco Mantegazza, Domenico Montagna, Giuseppe Guarneri “filius Andreae” and many others.
Dario mainly uses ¬local and Bosnian maple (some of which were left by his grandfather), Italian poplar, willow, cherry and pear wood as well as the traditional violin-making spruce from Val di Fiemme. He occasionally succeeds in finding old wood, which, according to analyses carried out at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo, comes from trees dating back to the 17th century.
The whole family took to researching old varnish formulas, mostly found in their grandfather Dario’s old manuscripts, which has allowed them to reach a quality that can be appreciated on each instrument of the family’s.
At the moment, Dario is working in the family workshop in Via della Dogana together with his father Paolo, his sister Sofia and his brother Lapo, though everyone signs their instruments with their own label.
Still today the family preserves its own tradition started by “Grandfather Dario” in 1935.
In 2015 they will celebrate 80 years of violin-making tradition.
As I study the many photographs available on the family’s web site (see below), the uniqueness of each instrument becomes apparent, no less the skill it has taken to create them.
The founder of this talented and dedicated family was Dario (b. 1903) whose interest in music and the violin came at an early age. He studied with Emilio Benelli and Darios’ brother Vasco. Dario’s talents were noted and he eventually became the violinist in the Benelli Quartet. It was in 1937, a few years along in Dario’s violin making efforts that he met Giuseppe Ornati, one of the greatest violin makers of his time, during the bicentenary celebration of Stradivarius in Cremona. As a result of that meeting, the style of Dario’s instruments began to reflect the strong influence of the Cremonese school.
Over time, the selection of woods for the violins focused only on special selections from the Tuscan Appenine mountains. To this day, the primary source of the woods used in the family’s instruments resonates with the roots of those same mountains and forests.
Fernando Ferroni, whose work was deeply influenced by Cesaro Candi of Genoa, was another famous violin maker who worked with Dario. Upon Fernando’s death, the molds and tools used by Cesaro and Fernando passed into Dario’s hands. During his life, Dario produced 156 violins, 37 violas, 2 violoncellos and 2 quartets-truly an outstanding collection of the finest possible instruments. He died on 12th June 1973.
Dario’s son Paolo and this family continue a long tradition of creating instruments that bring Italy’s, and the world’s, rich musical heritage to life.
Visitors to Florence can schedule time to visit the school to more deeply appreciate the art and labor of those who love the music created from instruments of such care and precision.
Contact the family directly, see below, for details about scheduling time with them.
The traditions of Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu as well as countless other luthiers remains alive, thanks to the dedication and passion of the Vettori family.
Yet another little-known corner of Florence opens it doors and the rich traditions of hand craftsmanship and music comes alive.
IF YOU GO:
The Vettori family workshop is located at Via Della Dogana, 10
You can email Dario and other members of the family if you wish to schedule a visit, using: email@example.com. If you are in the city and wish to contact the family by phone: +39.055.287.337.