Giovanni Grancino (Italian, 1637–1709)
Spruce, maple, ebony, ivory; Overall L. 23 5/6 in. (60.5 cm)
Purchase, Amati Gifts, 2008 (2008.1)
Festoon-shaped bodies are known in viole da gamba but hardly ever in instruments, like this one, of the viola da braccio family. Only four violas with festoon-shaped bodies, sometimes called violettas, are known to survive (the other three are in Milan, London, and Vermillion, South Dakota). All four were built by Giovanni Grancino, the most distinguished Italian violin maker outside Cremona in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Violettas are rather small violas; ours is not much larger than a violin. Their original function is not clear, but the assumption that they were used on stage as visibly impressive solo instruments, as in Claudio Monteverdi's opera Orfeo (1607), is believable. With the rise of the violin-viola-cello family during the seventeenth century, the standardized forms won out, and violettas became rare documentations of late Renaissance and Baroque violin making.