Sketched journal in Bologna from 16th to 18th century

A visual recording of an event every two months from 1530 to 1796 shows us how the violoncello (and the bass also) were often played. Can you guess how?

During the past 18 months, journaling and especially sketching journals became common practice for many, trying to get some relaxing and contemplative time from the pandemic lockdowns. It was a fabulous way to see details of daily things from many corners of the globe. 

Quite incredibly, we got something similar from Bologna, Italy, the hometown of the violoncello, and in the right period to see it coming to light. 

The Insignia degli Anziani Consoli, currently preserved in 16 volumes at the State Archives of Bologna, are a series of parchment documents compiled every two months from 1530 to 1796, to pass on the names of the eight Anziani Consoli and the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, city magistrates lasting just bimonthly.  Starting from the end of the sixteenth century, the names of the magistrates are flanked by the coats of arms of their families and the representation of a significant event of the past two months.  It is, therefore, an extraordinary visual chronicle, which accompanies, with six images every year, over two centuries of city history.  The image reproduced above (relating to 1657) represents the theatre for the feast of the porchetta (roasted pork, typical dish of central Italy and a few northern regions, consisting of a whole pork, emptied, boned and seasoned, ideal for snacks in the cellar, therefore typical of wine production areas). It is the setting made in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna to host the feast of St. Bartholomew, celebrated every year on August 24.  That year the theatre was built in the shape of a ship and occupied almost the entire square space, as you can see in the image, between the palace of the podestà (left) and the stairway of S. Petronio (right).  Along the sides of the ship are the shops that housed the Assumption fair from 15 to 24 August, to then transform, on 24 August, into stages for the paying public who attended the theatrical representation and the ritual distribution of pork.  On the mast of the ship, the flag of the municipality flutters. Under it, a banner shows the insignia of Pope Alexander VII among those of the legate and the archbishop of Bologna.  On the ship's aft deck, a tent houses the nine coats of arms of the Anziani Consoli and the Gonfaloniere of the two months July-August 1657. At the top right, a Latin inscription in golden ink describes the image and shows the names of the Anziani Consoli. (source)

This is an example of how important, detailed and juicy that document is. But now, let's move to the violoncello da spalla, that is what this newsletter is about.

Let me start with a print that doesn’t come from the Insigna, but is from Bologna 1692: we can appreciate here a realistic representation of the little spaces in which musicians had to play, and in the first row, bottom right of the pic, an excellent example of what I would call a violoncello da Spalla.

Now let’s move to the Insignia. I have found four examples of da Spalla playing in the years between 1705 and 1742.

1722 - The presbytery of San Petronio, during the solemn celebration of the saint's feast, at the presence of the religious and civil authorities and James III Stuart with his wife, Clementina.

Updates from our workshop

On Monday we went to buy spruce from our dear friend Luca Pozza, look for Pozza Tonewoods. He has his workshop in the Lessini mountains, north of Verona, so we decided to drive through the mountain to avoid the busy motorway. I will tell more about Luca soon, as there is quite a lot to tell! By now, here are some pics of our trip to get there.

We got so excited talking about woods that we forgot to take pictures with him. Aaarghhh! So the pic below is from two years ago, with our first violoncello da Spalla that he tried in white. Yes, he is a violist too!

The quarry you see is where they extract pigments: Ocre and green earth from Verona are from here, just a couple of km from where I buy woods! This is why we like to use these pigments when antiquing instruments!

Featured video of the week

Japan is stoically hosting Olympic Games, but musicians seems to be still in lockdown, playing together remotely. Here is a fantastic video from the ensemble led by Toshihiko Amano. We hope and wish for a close future of playing together live!