Viola da gamba
Bass by Ventura di Francesco Linarolo
(Venezia, 1585)

Viola da gamba by Ventura Linarolo, 1585 Viola da gamba by Ventura Linarolo, 1585

Without a doubt one of the most significant instruments of the collection, this magnificent and extremely rare bass viola da gamba was built by one of the salient lights of violin making in Renaissance Italy in the year 1585, that is, at the zenith of the musical creativity of the Serenissima Repubblica, that brilliant epoch, which brought forth the most sublime spirits, the Gabrielis, Merulo, Castello, Monteverdi and others, whose implant altered the course of Western music for generations to come. This viola da gamba lays testimony to the high art of instrument making in the Renaissance, which quite justly claims its place next to the astonishing achievements of the pictorial arts, sculpture, architecture and literature of the times.

This instrument most certainly was employed in a Venetian palace, richly decorated with paintings, tapestries, sculptures and ceramics or in a similarly magnificently ornamented church; since those masters, Gabrieli, Merulo, Monteverdi, worked for decades in the small city of Venice, it is indeed quite likely to imagine that this very instrument once performed music under the direction of one or more of those great masters. It is thus a particular privilege to be able to take this viol, tune it, and perform those masterpieces again, which it undoubtedly has already performed under the hands of innumerable artists.

viola da gamba Raffaello 1518

The dendrochronological investigations of the University of Hamburg  (Dr. Peter Klein and Dr. Micha Beuting) revealed that the annular rings of the wood of the top came from the 1352 to 1564, thus certifying the authenticity of the age of this instrument

.A very similar instrument in painting:
Raffaello: Sancta Cecilia, ca. 1518

viola da gamba, Mass book 1564,
Another instrument of the same form, this time from a mass book
published in 1564 in Rome (Priv. collection Marc Strümper)

Note the similarity of the bridges in the two depictions

See also the treble viol by Giovanni Balla Bugger, which has a similar outline

Dendrochronological analysis

(Dendrochronology is the science of dating objects made out of wood by measuring the year rings in the wood used in the object's construction and comparing the results to data banks collected for this purpose. This methods establishes with reasonable certainty a date before which the instrument could not have been made. Most violin makers use woods which have been aged for about five to ten years.)

Bericht über die dendrochronologische Untersuchung einer
Viola da gamba, Baß (Linarol de Ventura)

Die zweiteilige Fichtenholzdecke enthält auf der Baßseite 213 Jahrringe und auf der Diskantseite 209 Jahrringe. Mit der Vergleichskurve aus der Alpenregion konnten die Jahrringe der Baßseite zwischen 1564 und 1352 und die der Diskantseite zwischen 1561 und 1353 eingeordnet werden. Somit stammt der jüngste auf der Decke vorhandene Jahrring aus dem Jahre 1564.

Baß- und Diskantseite stammen von demselben Baum.

Bei einer minimalen Lagerzeit des Holzes von einem Jahr kann die Decke frühstens ab 1565 entstanden

Prof. Dr. Peter Klein
Ordinariat für Holzbiologie
Universität Hamburg

Report on the dendrochronological analysis of a
bass Viola da gamba (Linarol de Ventura)

The two-part front of spruce contains 213 year-rings on the bass side and 209 on the treble side. With the comparative curve from the Alpine regions the year-rings could be dated between 1564 and 1352 for the bass side and between 1561 and 1353 for the treble side. Therefore the youngest ring present on the front comes from the year 1564.

Bass and treble sides come from the same tree.

Considering a minimal time for curing the wood of one year, the front could have been made in 1564 at the earliest.

Prof. Dr. Peter Klein
Ordinariat für Holzbiologie
Universität Hamburg

Dendrochronology: bass: 1494-1285 treble: 1490-1284

One might very much wonder if an instrument from 1585 can actually be used for playing concerts, but this photograph provides the answer. Peter Benovic, originally from the Slovakian Republic but now living in Gresden, Austria, has a particular weakness for the glorious sound of the Linarolo bass viol, which he often plays in consort. Peter is a big fellow and he can easily handle this instrument!

Viola da gamba by Ventura Linarolo, 1585

The luthier, Roland Hoüel, trying out this viol

The Italian Renaissance and Early Baroque viols in concert:
Music for Charles V and Philip II

Diego Ortiz: Recercada Quinta Pars

More on dendrochronology

Body length 720 mm
Upper width 392 mm
Middle width 277 mm
Lower width 427 mm
Rib height 147 mm
String length 722 mm

updated 28.02.2011