Home Page

Giorgio Serafin and His bottega "alla Cremona"

Zorzo (Giorgio) Serafin was born in 1726 in Venice from Giobatta, son of Valeriano, originally from Udine. Giobatta Serafin worked at the Public Lotto and resided with his family in Corte Nuova at San Marciliano, in the district of Cannaregio. He sublet his lodging from Pietro Dioduro, a butcher, for 26 ducats per year. It was typical for the common people of the time to sublet a home to other families to share the payment of rent.

Between 1745 and 1750, in fact, this apartment was also inhabited by another family, that of Pietro Canellini. Giobatta Serafin arrived in Venice together with his brother Santo around 1721. Santo Serafin was therefore Zorzo’s uncle. He was one of the most celebrated Venetian violin makers of the first half of the eighteenth century. When speaking of his nephew Zorzo in the occasion of his wedding, Santo Serafin said: "I have known him since his birth as he is my nephew, who has always lived in Venice with his father, my brother."

Zorzo most certainly learned the art of violin making from his uncle Santo, who had a liuter workshop in Calle dei Stagneri with the sign-board of the Holy Mary of the Seven Sorrows. The shop’s rooms were property of Ms. Margherita Curci, the heir of Zuanne Curci, a violin maker who worked between 1672 and 1727. In 1745 the rent for the shop was 459 liras. Giorgio did not take over his uncle’s activity when he closed the shop in 1745, but worked in the workshop of Montagnana, who died on March 7, 1750.

It was Montagnana’s brother Ludovico, a shoemaker with a shop in San Cassiano and living in Calle della Bissa (near Campo San Bortolomio) who made arrangements for the funeral. "The late Domenico Paolo Montagnana, 63 years of age, bed ridden for over one month from a hypochondriac illness, passed to a better life last night at around five o’clock, assisted by Father Nascinben. He is buried by his brother with a religious ceremony." After the death of their father, the daughters of Montagnana decided to continue their father’s activity at the "alla Cremona" workshop by creating a partnership with Zorzo Serafin.

On March 20, 1751, an interesting agreement was reached between the partners: the sisters guaranteed the capital and Giorgio Serafin managed the workshop in their name. Expenses and profits were shared in equal parts. "Partnership agreement between the daughters and heirs of the late Domenico Montagnana and Mr. Giorgio Serafin of Giobatta for the workshop of the above mentioned late Domenico, lauter in Calle de Stagneri in S. Bartolomio, with the sign-board of "alla Cremona."

This document is not only important for the history of Venetian violin making but also for the biographical details it carries on the life of Montagnana; therefore several of its parts which are the most significant for this discussion follow, deferring the publication of the whole document to a monograph on this celebrated artist.

"First: It is agreed between the heirs and Mr. Giorgio Serafin that within six to eight months from this date Mr. Giorgio must take as his bride Ms. Antonia Montagnana, daughter of Domenico and co-heir in equal parts with the sisters Virginia and Annetta. If the wedding does not take place within the agreed timeframe, the partnership will be dissolved".

"Third: Every six months a balance sheet will be drafted so that the profits from the workshop can be divided in equal parts between Montagnana’s heir and Mr. Giorgio after having deducted all expenses such as rent, taxes, and garzone or giovine’s expenses."

"Fourth: The garzone cannot be fired from his service at the house and at the workshop, and another cannot be hired unless Mr. Giorgio, the heir sisters or whomever acts on their behalf express a complete agreement."

"Fifth: Forty ducats per year, ten every three months, must be set aside from the workshop’s profits to pay for the garzone’s food. This amount is intended to be shared by the partners, twenty ducats coming from the heir’s portion of the profit and twenty from Mr. Giorgio’s. If another giovine should be hired, a new agreement about his food and lodging expenses must be reached."

"Sixth: The workshop, which is now registered with the Scola dei Marzeri in the name of Giorgio Serafin, must also be registered with the name of the late Domenico Montagnana, since this is the name of the business."

"Seventh: Every month the sisters must receive 30 ducats for the purchase of food items and Serafin must receive 15 ducats."

"Eighth: The safe containing the workshop’s profits must always be located at the Montagnana sisters’ house, as it is now, and the two keys must be kept by the sisters and by Serafin."

"Ninth: all shop items that are at the sisters’ house are to be sold by Serafin and not by another party and the profits from the sale must go into the workshop’s account."

The other parts of this document, which are less important, deal with the sharing of debt in the case of a passive balance, the maximum ordinary expense amount allowed to Serafin (50 ducats), the intervention of friends and trusted acquaintances in case of a dispute, therefore excluding the intervention of government offices (with the penalty of 50 ducats for the first to break this agreement), the collection of credits of Domenico Montagnana which would go to the sisters, matters of accounting and sharing of other profits.

An interesting attachment to the partnership agreement, titled "Registered balance of named Company" and dated March 1751, details the current financial situation of the bottega with a statement of assets and liabilities. The assets, which included "the shop items that are at the sisters’ house and at the bottega and are intended for the workshop" and the cash money, amounted to 3,600 ducats equal to 22,320 liras.

Montagnana was certainly successful in his professional activity, building little by little a number of assets, which guaranteed a comfortable life for his family. He was able to give a dowry of about 800 ducats each to the daughters, a sum that was equal to the value of a small apartment in Rialto area. In 1745 Montagnana invested (as later did Tartini, the violinist) the amount of 900 ducats at the Mendicanti hospital which also served as a bank, as other hospitals did, receiving capitals from private citizens and paying a 3.5% interest.

Apart from the above mentioned assets, Serafin could also count on the following instruments:

a large pattern Amati viola; a violin at the imitation of the name Jacobo Stainer; an Antonio Girolamo Amati violin; a violin by Santo Serafin; an unfinished violin by Montagnana; a violin with the name of Gobbetti, the shoemaker; a Tononi violin; and a violin of (Pietro) dalla Costa and a verzino bow.

From the reading of the partnership agreement, it can be inferred that during the last period of his activity Montagnana had a number of people working for him: one or two garzoni, Serafin, and probably another maestro or agent. This is the average amount of workers in important Venetian violin making workshop of the second half of the eighteenth century. Montagnana was also extremely busy because of his engagement with the La Piet� hospital, as some invoice proves.( photoes).

Montagnana also sold his instruments abroad: at his death, the daughters appointed an attorney entrusted with the collection of a 270 liras credit, probably for the sale of an instrument, from Giovanni Francesco Fener of Salzburg, Austria. In his will, Carlo Tononi, who died on April 21, 1730, requested the sale of a cello which was in the city of Pesaro. This information suggests that many German instruments were imported and sold in Venice, while at the same time many were the instruments crafted by Venetian violin makers were being exported outside of Venice, even to faraway countries.

Returning to Giorgio Serafin, the first registered document which shows him as tenant of the bottega is dated July 29, 1750, a few months after Montagnana’s death. "The house and bottega belong to the haberdasher Giuseppe Fanio, who lives in this location with his wife, three children, an aunt, two garzoni, a servant (9 people total). He sublets a bottega to Anzolo Sandrinelli, a hat maker who lives in S. Gio. Rialto and pays 40 ducats. He also sublets a bottega to Zorzi Serafin, lauter, who lives in S. Marcilian and pays 30 ducats. He also sublets to Giacinto Coraglieri, a hairdresser, who lives in S. Bartolomio and pays 20 ducats."

Other documents bear witness to his workshop ownership and consequent registration to the Arte dei Marzeri on the same date: "Giorgio Serafin violin maker in Calle dei Stagneri must pay: 1750 – 38 liras, 1751 – 38 liras." This was the highest amount paid to the guild by any Venetian violin maker of his time. The bottega of Giorgio Serafin, and before him of Domenico Montagnana, was located in Calle dei Stagneri on the side of San Bartolomio. It was located at the beginning of this road, on the right hand side, next to the toy store that today attracts all Venetian children.

Giorgio Serafin was extremely lucky since he worked and learned from two of the most renowned Venetian violin makers of his time: Santo Serafin and Domenico Montagnana. Still his work has all its own personal stylistic characteristics and reveals a personality that has been wrongly labeled as secondary. His workshop was the meeting point of the Venetian violin making experience of the first and the second half of the eighteenth century.

On April 5, 1751, Zorzo asks for and obtains the ‘emancipation’ or independence from his father. He fulfills this legal act "not to elude a father’s love and respect, but to act independently, to deal and negotiate as a free and independent man who is not subject to his father and his paternal authority."

On November 11, 1751, his marriage contract is drafted, "In the name of God and of the Glorious Blessed Vergin Mary who may always protect this wedded couple. With this marriage contract Serafin Zorzi, emancipated son of GioBatta, promises and pledges to receive as his bride and wife, as prescribed by the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Council of Trent, the demured damsel S. Antonia Montagnana of the late Domenico, who promises and pledges to receive as her bridegroom and husband the above mentioned Zorzo Serafin, son of Mr.GioBatta.

"The above mentioned Antonia and her sisters Meneghina and Angela promise ‘simul et in solidum’ to give the above mentioned Zorzi a dowry which is the inheritance from their father, the late Domenico Montagnana, in the total amount of eight hundred ducats of which four hundred is in currency (6 liras and 4 soldi each), and the remaining four hundred is in gold, items of clothing and linens, the value of which will be professionally estimated. The total amount of the dowry will be eight hundred ducats. Once entrusted with the dowry, S. Zorzi will be satisfied, and will promise to guard and preserve said dowry and to return it (may God Almighty keep misfortune away from this family) to S. Antonia, her heirs, successors or receivers by will and in accordance with the laws of this city. S. Zorzi binds his assets to the good management of said dowry.

"The wedding should follow the day of the Blessed Virgin Mary, therefore it is scheduled for the 21 of this current month. The interested parties agree to the terms of this contract binding their assets, and signing in the presence of two witnesses."

On November 21, 1751 in the church of San Bartolomio, Zorzo married Antonia, born on July 26, 1724, daughter of Domenico Montagnana. "Zorzi of GioBatta Serafino of the parish of San Marciliano and Antonia of the late Domenico Montagnana of our town district were blessed during a mass celebrated over the church’s sacristy. The witnesses are Mr. Giovanni Antonio of Zuanne Cavallari from the town district of San Canciano and GioBatta Abbondio, minor clerk of our church."

On November 21, Venetians traditionally celebrate the day of the Madonna della Salute. This anniversary was and still is deeply felt, because Venetians make a pilgrimage to the church dedicated to Her Name carrying a candle while praying for good health for the coming year. The fact that this marriage was unusually celebrated under the auspices of the Madonna della Salute indicates that the couple requested particular attention and protection for their health.

The couple had three children: Elena Anna Lucrezia, born on December 31, 1752, who died prematurely a few months later, Elena Maria Lucrezia, born on October 20, 1757, and the only male GioBatta, born on May 29, 1759.

In 1761 Zorzo, together with his sister Lucrezia, purchased for 1,800 ducats an apartment (where they resided as tenants paying a rent of 60 ducats) on the third floor of a house in Calle dell’Aquila Nera (today number 5307, on the left of the sottoportico adjacent to Campo San Bartolomeo). He also purchased a storage space, on the first floor of the same building, for 500 ducats.

Both house and store room were purchased from Vincenzo Don� and the witness to the transactions was Domenico Polesello, a successful oil dealer and husband of Domenica Montagnana, sister of Antonia, who had bought for 3,000 ducats the bottega next to the sottoportico on Campo San Bartolomio, adjacent to the store room. The apartment was composed of: "an arcade, four rooms, a breakfast room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a small storage room and other (…). A small staircase leads to three small rooms and the attics which are separated with wooden boards."

The purchase of these estates speak well of the success of the business. Giorgio Serafin in fact became the violin maker charged of the maintenance and repair of stringed instruments for three out of four of the Venetian hospitals: the Ospedaletto, the Mendicanti and La Piet�. The hospital of the Incurabili was contracted to Ongaro.

The office of liuter del loco, as it was commonly called, guaranteed a constant flow of income: curating the instruments of an entire orchestra (not to mention that of three!) was a burdensome activity which required the work of more than one person; instruments had to be picked up, continuously repaired because of breakage and ungluing from use, and sometimes instruments had to be built. The responsible violin maker also had to supply strings for the entire orchestra, keep an accounting book detailing all operations, and issue semi-annual or annual invoices.

These invoices, or ‘policies’ as they were called at the time, were handwritten by the appointed violin maker and had to be approved by the maestre del coro or the maestro di cappella – who would usually be granted a discount – before being paid by the hospital administration. These ‘policies’ are not only a precious source of information for the study of an author and his work, but they are also a valid tool to gather more information on the activities of the Italian violin makers of the eighteenth century.

There is also much information that can be gleaned from an organological study on the musical practice of the sonadori of the time. This is the first time that such a long and articulate documentation on the activity of the violin makers of the eighteenth century is collected. For a reading of some the most interesting invoices, we refer to the appendix where only some of them (the author has found and catalogued more than 110, totaling 400 pages) are listed in chronological order and cover the years from 1750 to 1810. The prices on the invoices are always in liras or soldi, the latter are preceded by a colon.

It is interesting to note that until 1767 the invoices for the hospital La Piet� were signed by Giorgio Serafin on behalf of Domenico Montagnana, since the company officially bore his name. In 1768, the bottega of Montagnana was finally sold to Giorgio Serafin who had to run into debt for the purchase and died before completing the payment. ....................( continuing)...........

 ..................As we have seen from an analysis of his life and work as also from documents stored in Venice archives, Giorgio Serafin was a complete and experienced violin maker. He worked for 25 years building, repairing and renting violins of different sizes (small, medium and regular size), violas – generally of small and medium size, cellos, double basses, verzino bows round and octagonal, and sometimes serpentine wood bows. He could also repair lutes and theorbos and even consented to the repair of instrument cases.

He knew and worked with all kinds of wood including the less precious local woods such as the ‘king’s wood’ (walnut), ‘ agave wood’ (acacia), and ‘carober wood’ (carob). He was very knowledgeable of the work of the violin making masters of the eighteenth century. In 1759, for example, he repaired some Stradivarius, Andrea Guarnieri, Nicola Amati, Pietro Antonio dalla Costa and Pietro Paolo de Vetor (a violin maker from Brescia of the first half of the eighteenth century.)

One curious detail is that during these years, he applied a gold piece as ornament and identification mark on the back of many instruments of the Hospital dei Mendicanti (exactly seven violins, a small violin, one cello and two violons) and sometimes of the hospital La Piet�. On July 12, 1768 he repaired for the Hospital Ospedaletto (and for the significant sum of 12 liras, sign of the instrument’s value) an instrument identified as violino del calegher - or violin of the shoemaker - referring to Gobbetti and his profession as a shoemaker. He also supplied the orchestras of the fie di Cor (daughters of the coro, which is the name given to the female players) with strings and accessories such as brass mutes, rosin, horse hair for bows, bridges, and anything else they needed to play.............................( continuing)...

.........It is notable to mention some of those who worked in his bottega: the young son of GioBatta, who began his violin making career very early, Anselmo Bellosio from 1770, and Giuseppe Bodio, probably the uncle of GioBatta Bodio, future violin maker. The bottega was very busy and rich in commissions, justifying the number of people working in it (five or six). Elena, The daughter of Giorgio Serafin, worked as a dressmaker in a bottega in the nearby Calle del Cristo together with Antonio Lucatello (son of the pewter worker Alvise, friend of Montagnana, of the Sellas and of Giorgio Serafin) who she will marry in 1784.

Giorgio Serafin died before his time on January 25, 1775. "Zorzi, of the late GioBatta Serafini, 49 years of age, suffering of chronic and convulsive cough, after ten days of fever died at 2 o’clock p.m.. He was visited by Father Costantini he was buried with a religious ceremony."

GioBatta, who was only sixteen at the time , took over his father’s activity in the workshop and as a liuter del loco for the different city’s hospitals, as evidenced by the many invoices written to his name. There were several deaths in the family that occurred in the following years: aunt Lucrezia, Giorgio’s sister who lived with him, died on August 18 of the same year and Santo Serafin died after seven months of sickness on February 6, 1776, at the age of 76. Because of the stylistic affinities between uncle and nephew, it is plausible that Santo Serafin, even if withdrawn from the profession of liuter in 1745, kept working with the nephew in the repair and crafting of instruments...............( continuing).