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Vuillaume Jean Baptiste ’s
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Characteristics of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume’s instruments are
His main contribution to violin making was work on varnish.
It’s endurance and quality, is surpassed only by the best of
Italian violinmakers. However, there are often examples of
his violins, which show excessive lacquer wear, and deposits
of dirt deeply joined with the top lacquer film, especially
on instruments that have not been attended to for a long
time. These areas are mainly located on the top desk in
close proximity to purfling lines along the mid section of
2- Purfling joints on the back table are often cut on the
straight, and not on the bias (under sharper angle), as
tradition requires. The joints positioned in the middle,
under, or over the pin (if present), or nearby are cut in
the same manner. Yet, this is no absolute rule to be
observed as a definitive statement. There are exceptions.
3- His violins of the
first period have rather large, and wider edges.
4- His brand in the
first period was burnt inside the violin and positioned on
the middle bouts, when used.
5- His brand is burnt
at the length of 10 mm precisely.
6- His varnish varied
from orange-red, to red. But generally, after 1860, varnish
on many of his instruments became lighter.
7- Body length on his
instruments is usually 357 mm, 359 mm, 362 mm, 363 mm,
sometimes even 356 mm, etc.
8- Generally, a black
dot can be found on the joint of the top table, under the
position of the bridge, however this is neither a rule to be
observed as a definitive statement.
9- He used an external
mould to build his violins. He created this system in the
mid-nineteenth century, and it was later interpreted as the
French system of violin making. It was his aim to copy with
absolute perfection the given master, for instance any
Cremonese one. Being an extraordinarily ingenious and
skilled craftsman, he made the mould around the original
violin and then built the new instrument inside the mould.
So his dream, of making violins almost identical to the
Cremonese instruments, came true.
10- When making copies of
violins by other famous violinmakers, such as Stradivari -
J. B. Vuillaume occasionally even incorporated into the new
instrument original parts from other violins beyond repair
made by the maker he was copying.
11- The “Body Stop”, (Mensur),
is generally (193 mm) long. In this respect he follows the
French 18th century tradition of a short stop (190 mm),
which was traditionally (195 mm) long in Italy, and even
(200 mm) long in Germany. However, on copies of other
makers, Vuillaume did not use this Mensur, as it would have
been a ridiculous rule to adhere to in this instance.
12- Violin serial number
is in most cases inscribed in the mid section inside the
instrument, along the central axis of the instrument, while
dating of the violin is in most cases just above the loops
of his signature in the top right corner on the back table,
instruments of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume incorporate identical
serial numbers on the back table inside, on the ribs
(usually on the left top side), and on the top desk. This is
a clear indication of maintaining order within his workshop,
and a security measure that only those parts of an
instrument that belong together, are finally married.
14- An instance has been
noted, where a copy of a long back Stradivari instrument
incorporates an inscription in the top centre section of the
back table on the inside. This denotes a combination of
letters & a single number, Nu 2. Presumably, this is a mark
signifying that this is a second copy of a specific
Stradivari violin, or a mark signifying that this is a copy
of an instrument that is no longer in existence due to its
state before copying.
15- Instruments made by
his apprentices were not signed by Vuillaume, only
initialled in the mid section, and in many instances bore a
different label to the ones he used on his own work.
16-His range of practice
violins was manufactured by his brother and bore a label St.
17-Instruments are dated,
(using only the last two figures), which are to be found in
the upper right paraph on the back table, inside.
Nevertheless, examples have been also noted where a date is
clearly shown on the label. These instances appear to be
from the absolute beginning of his violin-making career.
Moreover, a substantial number of authenticated violins are
not dated at all.
18-Most of his
instruments are signed in pencil in the upper treble right
bout, inside. He apparently used two types of signatures.
Both variants are of larger size, incorporating five round
decorative loops underlining the signature, ending with an
axially placed loop resembling the sign for infinity. One
variant shows a clear signature “Vuillaume”, under which is
the above-mentioned set of loops, while the other evidently
depicts the loops without the actual signature “Vuillaume
above. The reason for this variant appears to be one of date
placement in the mid position above the signature loops,
whereas in the complete version of the signature there is
apparently no space left for the placement of the date in
that position. Furthermore, the actual loops of the
signature appear to depict “Baptiste” due to starting on the
left, where one can quite clearly see the first letter of
Baptiste, “B”. Both noted examples of signatures share a
significant common denominator, where a line copies the form
of the closest positioned rib, as a single stroke, beginning
far left and tracing the rib roughly at the same distance
all along, ending with a final stroke behind the top right
corner of the signature, or loops.
19- Some of his
instruments are decorated in black decorative lining on the
scroll and the rib corners. According to Bignon, these
decorations denote that the instrument was made in Paris.
20- Labels used by Jean
Baptiste Vuillaume show most likely an intentional
“misprint” in words ending with a small letter “s”. This
shows as a slight inclination of the letter “s” towards
21-He used classical
fixing pins on some of his instruments, where in some
instances the pins have no other function than to lead the
sight of an observer towards the pin, thereby making the
person miss the actual position of such, close positioned,
marks as an initial “JV” inscribed, thus hidden, within the
boundaries of classical inlay width.
22-An instance has been
noted, where the lower pin detracts from a nearby
inscription located between the purfling lines, towards
right, perhaps depicting “IP 320LJ32F”. This appears to
denote a serial number, in an alternative position, combined
with a second set of numbers and letters, which are as yet
23-It has been noted that
on some of his instruments he used a miniature pin, or a
black, (dark brown) dot positioned on the front table just
under the sharp inlay joint of the top right corner.
24-Some of his
instruments appear to use a clearly intentional, and rather
significant mark, depicting a purfling hairline cross on the
back table, positioned at the bottom left corner. This was
also noted on instruments of Nicolo Amati.
25-It is noted in a copy
of a letter by Vuillaume, that he could not make himself do
purfling on violins that were ready for this process. It is
the only example we come across to-date, clearly noting his
likes and dislikes of the luthier process.
26- Vuillaume kept a
logbook with personally kept records, by serial number, of
every violin that he made throughout his life. However, it
appears to be the case that a violin, or two, have not
actually slipped being listed in his log book, as it is
obvious that if Vuillaume adhered to his rule without
exception, all violins made by his hands would have been
marked with a corresponding serial number inside, which is
apparently not the case in every single instance.
instruments with serial numbers positioned close to the
centre of the back table inside, (with hash each side, or
not), which at the same time do not incorporate Vuillaume’s
signature in the top right section, on the back table, are
made by his pupils.
Antonij & Hieronymus Amati
initials, and signs on the outer surface of the case of the
instrument labelled: Antonij & Hieronymus Amati 1628.
1- Clear and unquestionably intentional
mark is located on the back table positioned to the left of
the top pin below the button. This mark appears to be either
an “R” with a small cross positioned beneath it,
alternatively two overlapping capital letters “A” and “H”
with a small cross, positioned beneath them.
2- Clear and unquestionably intentional
mark is positioned on the front table at the right bottom
corner inlay meeting point. The mark is a hairline cross
extending from both the upper line of inlay going downwards,
as well as from the lower line of inlay going upwards. The
inlay hairlines begin at the sharp inlay end of the meeting
point where they cross and further follow through for about
10 mm from both sides. The only other example of this mark
seen on my three times certified Nicolo Amati instrument,
which was at some point also verified by an expert from
Sotherby’s. This mark was located on the left bottom corner
of the front, or the back table.
3- Clear mark, which may be interpreted
as unintentional or accidental, is located on the rim of the
front table just above the front left top corner. This mark
appears to be an arrow of an identical size to the other
below-mentioned example of the same in point (8), without
central axis, pointing possibly towards the joint of the
front table with the neck.
4- Clear mark, which may be interpreted
as unintentional or accidental, is located approximately 50
mm towards the right of the above-mentioned arrow mark on
the front table at the front left top corner. This mark
appears to be a capital letter “I”, alternatively “J”, or an
“H”, with a further possible capital letter, which is less
clear and a much larger version of the first mentioned. It
could possibly be an “A”, or an “H” positioned to the left
of the first mark.
5- Clear mark, which some may choose to
interpret as unintentional, is located at the right top
corner inlay meeting point on the back table. It consists of
a very long hairline extending from the corner inlay meeting
point, which then bends in a long bow downwards. This
hairline ending was evidently performed by one of the great
masters. The clear fact that this is not the only hairline
extended corner inlay on the instrument, but definitely the
longest, the single bow one, and the most perfect, suggests
an intention to present a clear mark, such as a signature of
the maker who chooses to extend only one hairline inlay
ending in this fashion, while being able to extend all in
the same way without any complications. It may, of course,
be interpreted as unintentional, but the actual level of
brilliance, perfection, and professionalism implies to me
that this mark cannot be considered as an unintentional
occurrence and most definitely not an accident.
6- Clear mark, which some may choose to
interpret as unintentional or accidental, is located at the
right bottom corner inlay meeting point on the back desk.
Similarly, the inlay at this corner is also extended nicely
into a hairline, but as stated, it does not form into a bow,
nor does it extend nowhere near as far as the previous
example. It is rather shorter than the above-mentioned
hairline extension and basically following a straight line.
However, there appears to be a series of letters and numbers
positioned just above this corner on the rim of the back
desk. This sequence of letters and numbers is hardly legible
and appears to begin with a Greek capital Alpha, followed by
a few other hardly legible letters, ending with series of
three or four numbers. This ending line of numbers could
possibly be “1834”, “1H34”, “IH34”, “I834”, “834”, “83M”,
etc. This mark, in my view, cannot be interpreted as
unintentional. Although, one might see another set of
possible marks just below the inlay at this position, this
appears to me to be an accidental damage of the lacquer,
which might be misread as set of letters.
7- Clear mark, which could possibly be
interpreted as unintentional or accidental, is positioned
approximately 30 mm towards the left of the above-mentioned
mark on the back table at the side of the bottom right
corner. This mark appears to be a capital letter “A”.
8- Clear mark, which could possibly be
interpreted as unintentional or accidental, is located on
the rim of the back table towards the left of the button.
This mark appears to be an arrow without central axis,
pointing possibly precisely inline and away from the
9- An unclear mark may be seen on the
back table just below the top left corner inlay. This may be
interpreted as unintentional or accidental. It is positioned
approximately 60 mm downwards at the right side of the
vertical section of the inlay below the corner. This set of
marks appears to be starting with a capital letter “L,
Alpha, 3, 3, _” The letters and/or numbers are clearly
positioned one below each other along the right side of the
inlay line. The question remains from which side should one
read them. Depending on this, one would have to assume a
totally different set of letters or perhaps even a
combination of letters and numbers.