The History of the Violin Explained

The violin is one the world’s most treasured bowed stringed instruments with a lineage that dates to the sixteenth century. But as old as the violin is, its design was inspired by a few much older stringed instruments – the Arabian rabab, the European rebec, and the viol.

The Arabian rabab dates to the Middle Ages and is the earliest known bowed instrument in the world. Played by musicians throughout the Middle East and Africa, the rabab, which typically featured two or three strings and a pear- or boat-shaped body, served as early inspiration for the fourteenth century viol and the European rebec, the latter of which was played throughout Spain and France during the fifteenth century. The rabab also influenced the Chinese erhu and morin khur, and thus, these are also considered early relatives of the violin.

What makes the history of the violin unique is that one would think that there would be records showing how these earlier bowed stringed instruments were gradually refined over time to eventually become what we know as the violin, but that isn’t the case. The violin, as we know it in its current form, appeared seemingly out of nowhere around 1550. 

Sadly, no physical examples of the early violins exist, but evidence of them can be found in paintings of that era. As a result, not a lot is known about the earliest versions of the violin. All we really have to go on is what recorded history tells us.

Who Invented the Violin?

According to recorded history, the earliest violin makers came from northern Italy. Both Andre Amati and Gasparo di Bertolotti are said to be among the first luthiers to produce the instrument that we know today as the violin. While violins produced by these two master luthiers still exist today, the oldest violin in existence is credited to Andre Amati.

When Was the Violin First Made?

The exact date for when the violin was first made is shrouded in mystery. While there are no doubts that earlier renditions of the violin were manufactured, the oldest one that is currently in existence was crafted around 1565 by Amati.

Where Was the Violin Invented?

Andre Amati created his violins in the small town of Cremona in northern Italy’s Lombardia region. From the middle of the sixteenth century to the first half of the eighteenth century, Cremona was the center of the world’s violin production, with about 20,000 instruments being made there during that time. The town would also produce other famous luthiers, including Carlo Bergonzi and several makers in the Stradivari and Guarneri families. 

Meanwhile, Gasparo di Bertolotti found fame producing violins in the town of Salò, which is located on the banks of Lake Garda in the Province of Brescia in the region of Lombardia. His work was so associated with the town that he eventually became known as Gasparo da Salò.

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