Italy System-Brescia School (Brescia School)

Brescia, located in northern Italy, has been renowned for its manufacture of the bowed string instruments and pipe organs. In the history of Europe, Brescian luthiers were the pioneers of producing high-quality viols, lutes, citterns, and violas. By the 16th century, the production of violins there had been abundant. Giacomo della Corna (ca. 1484-ca. 1560), on the one hand, was one of the major luthiers of that time who specialized in lute making. Zanetto Micheli da Montichiaro (ca. 1489-ca. 1560) of the Micheli family, on the other, was the founder of the Brescia school. Micheli da Montichiaro is believed to be the first viola maker in history, but the documents only show that he had crafted a number of bowed string instruments but lacked further details about the forms of the instruments.

The craftsmanship and techniques of Micheli da Montichiaro were passed onto his son Pellegrino di Zanetto De Micheli (ca. 1520-ca. 1606). In addition to the Michelis, there were some other luthiers active in the second half of the 16th century, such as Giovita Rodiani (ca. 1540-1619) and Girolamo Virchi, both of whom, however, are not related to the survival instruments. The major competitor of the Micheli family at that time was Gasparo da Salo (1540-1609). By the end of the 16th century, Da Salo and the Michelis gradually withdrew from the commercial market, turning their attention to the production of plucked instruments.

Da Salo was a prolific luthier, producing a considerable number of stringed instruments, such as violas, violins and violins, during his luthier career of nearly 40 years. In addition, he cultivated many apprentices, including his sons Francesco and Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-ca. 1630/31). Although his violin-making techniques were relatively primitive, da Salo laid a firm foundation for the Brescia school. His later works, specifically the violas, showed an excellent quality. In the Italian history of violin making, he played both the roles of an inheritor and a transformer and his pupil Giovanni Paolo Maggini brought the local violin-making industry to another climax.

In 1606, da Salo’s techniques were inherited by Maggini, who later established his own business in the city center. Unfortunately, Maggini died in the plague breaking out in the summer of 1630, which resulted in the decline of Brescia’s violin-making tradition. Although some less well-known luthiers survived from the plague, very few of their instruments survived today.

During the plague, the Lassigner family from Germany was also based in Brescia. Andrea Lassigner crafted violins together with his two sons, Carlo Lassigner and Giovanni Lassigner, and his grandson Stefano Lassigner (?-1700). After Stefano’s death in 1700, Lassigner’s workshop was taken over by Gaetano Pasta (1679-1723) from Milan when Stefano’s wife remarried Pasta. Another luthier who survived the plague was Matteo Bentic (1580-?). After the plague, some German luthiers moved to Brescia from Venice, such as Michele Aisele (?-1686) and Matteo Reilich (?-1678), both of whom founded their own workshops in Brescia separately to produce plucked string instruments. Before their arrival in Brescia, their families had conducted instrumental trading in various cities. In addition, a member of the Aisele family worked in Venice and Modena and the Reilich family enjoyed a great reputation in Venice. Between 1683-1684, a Reilich family member studied violin making at the workshop of Nicolò Amati (1596-1684).

In 1663, Giovanni Battista Rogeri (1642-ca. 1710) moved to Brescia and brought the novel style which blended those of Amati and of Brescia school. This initiated a new chapter of the violin-making industry that was previously discontinued in 1630.

Later, Rogeri’s son, Pietro Giacomo Rogeri (1665-1724), inherited his violin-making style and was renowned for the perfect tone of the instruments. His death in 1724, however, resulted in another low point of the industry in Brescia. It was until the early 19th century when the Scarampella family, specifically Paolo Scarampella (1805-1870) and his son, Stefano Scarampella (1843-1925), founded their workshop in Brescia that the Brescia school was revived. In 1886, however, the Scarampellas moved their workshop to Mantua, the Brescia school declined again.