The Violin Museum is a musical instrument museum located in Cremona. The museum is best known for its collection of stringed instruments that includes violins, violas, cellos and double basses crafted by renowned luthiers, including Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù.
At the time of his death in 1883, Enrico Ceruti, a prolific and successful Italian luthier and musician in his own rights, passed down the objects from his workshop to Michelina, the widow of his son, Paolo. Michelina was at that time, married the second time to Giovanni Battista Cerani, who was also a close friend of Enrico Ceruti. Cerani was an instrument dealer and collector, who later donated various musical instruments and models owned by great Cremonese violin luthiers, including Antonio Stradivari to the town of Cremona in 1893, and thus, the Stradivarius museum (in Italian: museo Stradivari) was established. The museum was later enriched by the inestimable collection of Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio of Salabue, an Italian count who is known as the first great connoisseur and collector of violins of his time. Cozio’s meticulous notes on nearly every instrument that passed through his hands contributed enormously to the body of knowledge surrounding Italian violinmaking.
In 1893 Giovanni Battista Cerani donated various musical instruments and models owned by the great Cremonese violin makers, including Antonio Stradivari, to the municipality of Cremona. Thus the Stradivarian Museum was established, which was later enriched by the invaluable collection of Ignazio Alessandro Cozio, Count of Salabue, who had acquired what remained of the Stradivari laboratory, thus becoming one of the first Italian experts in the history of violin making. The great collection of wooden models, documents and craft equipment for the creation of Cozio’s string instruments was purchased in 1920 by the violin maker Giuseppe Fioriniof Bologna in order to create an Italian school of violin making; however, failing to do so, after ten years he decided to give the entire collection to the civic museum of Cremona.
The municipal administration thus created a “Sala Stradivariana” inside the Palazzo Affaitati, where all the objects from the Salabue-Fiorini collection were exhibited. After a brief transfer to the Palace of Art and the State Archive, the collection was placed in the civic museum and divided into three rooms: the first illustrated the construction of the alto viola according to the classical Cremona school; the second room displayed some instruments made by Italian luthiers of the 19th-20th century; the last room contained sixteen exhibitors with over 700 objects.
The culture of ” lute-making knowledge and know-how of the Cremona tradition ” was registered on 5 December 2012 in the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO.
After two years of restoration of the Palazzo dell’Arte, the entire collection was permanently transferred to the new “violin museum” officially inaugurated on 14 September 2013.
The thirties of the twentieth century represent a crucial time for Cremona, and not only for violin making.
The fascist regime carries out a process of urban renewal that profoundly disrupts the structure of the historic center, inserting a series of buildings representative of a modern culture that wanted to be successful, powerful and solid in the swarming fabric of ancient architectural testimonies. Roberto Farinacci (1892-1945) is the main promoter of this design, and the construction of Palazzo dell’Arte (1942-1946), which now houses the Museo del Violino, is its last act.
The space that the building occupies is in fact the result of the previous demolition (1924) of the church of Sant’Angelo, one of the oldest in the city, ruled first by the Benedictines, then by the Observant Franciscans until 1810, and today remembered in the toponym of the square behind the building. This first destruction is followed by that of the adjoining cloister and of buildings perched on it, defined as unhealthy (1936-1939).
The intent of this work of gutting is to obtain a monumental area that closes the route of the ancient cardo maximus of the city and that can host the various markets.
This urban void is then delimited, to the north, by the construction (1938) of the headquarters of “Il Regime Fascista”, the magazine directed by Farinacci, with its printing plant, offices and apartments. The space, therefore, with a podestar resolution (1940) takes the name of “Piazza Guglielmo Marconi” in homage to the Italian Nobel Prize-winning physicist who died in 1937.
At the beginning of the 1940s, on the south side, Palazzo dell’Arte sees the light.
Contaminating tradition and innovation, Palazzo dell’Arte is one of the masterpieces of the first production of the Neapolitan architect Carlo Cocchia (1903-1993) and stands out strongly in the architectural panorama of Cremona during the Twenties, closing in a monumental sense the south side of Piazza Marconi.
Due mainly to the will of Farinacci, eager to give an appropriate venue for some artistic and cultural events ( primarily the “Cremona Award”), it was designed by 1941 and raised, not without obscure points in the bureaucratic procedures, in the full war period ( 1942-1946), undergoing the interruption of construction work, completed only in the immediate post-war period.
The building mixes a distant Mediterranean inspiration with an echo of Milanese modernity (the reference, albeit vague, is at the Palazzo della Triennale by Giovanni Muzio). The structure includes two wings, originally containing two courtyards and connected by arcades on diaphragm columns, an open space, tangent to a massive central body destined for large events, today transformed into an Auditorium.
It qualifies for the dry definition of the volumes, the rigorous distribution of the interior spaces and for a wise, original and sophisticated use of brick, which covers the building and animates the surface on an epidermal level, creating unique chromatic and material effects. Brick and marble also prevail inside, combining the color of terracotta with the solidity of stone.
With it, Cremona is enriched with an element that brings with it roots that are foreign to the local culture and results of a national debate that are grafted, mediated by the creativity of Cocchia and the filters imposed by building commissions, on an urban context with which he creates a dialogue with surprising effects: those of a foreign body that is installed with its own strength and at the same time with its own intelligence in the historical fabric. And that still possesses, despite the prestigious, new destination that brings it back to the original exhibition function, that intriguing charm of the unfinished.
Palazzo dell’Arte had to be ready by the spring of 1943 to host the celebrations of the third centenary of the death of Monteverdi, the school of violin making and the fourth edition of the “Cremona Award”. But the events precipitate, and the art competition is not carried out.
Temporarily destined for military necessity, in 1946 it was reaffirmed by the Municipality as its property.
In the decades, different roles have been assigned to him, despite a continuous, vain claim by the artistic world of Cremona as an exhibition venue. Roles that have transformed it into a “container” capable of hosting numerous art exhibitions and trade fairs, “daytime and evening dance entertainment”, gyms and sports meetings, assemblies and conferences of all sorts, offices of institutions, committees and associations of every kind, theatrical, musical and cinematographic shows, charitable initiatives, and so on.
And the violin making? It has always been present in the history of the building. Here are held the International Violin Making Exhibition of 1949 and some biennials between the 60s and 70s. Here the International School of Violin Making moved in the summer of 1956, and remained there until 1974, when it moved to Palazzo Raimondi. The attached Museum of Violin Making remains there until 1975, when it moved to Palazzo Affaitati.
But we cannot forget the Natural History Museum, inaugurated in 1958 and housed here until 1995, and the furnishing sections that since 1960 have enriched the school’s educational offer up to recent years.
When piazza Marconi is used as a bus station (until 1987), some rooms of the building host ticket offices and cafeterias. The market enlivens the spaces around it for decades, until 1999. From 2005 to 2007 the building houses the deposits and laboratories of the archaeologists engaged in the impressive excavation campaign that brought to light the remains of a luxurious Roman Domus of age Augustan whose precious finds are preserved today in the Archaeological Museum of San Lorenzo.
What has been called the “Palace of Disorder” due to the mixture of functions covered, after a first hypothesis of return to a museum as the Football Museum today celebrates the excellence of Cremonese and world violin making as Museo del Violino.
The architectural project for the Palazzo dell’Arte rests on the theme of the exhibition-musical bipolarity represented by the intrinsic functions of the Museo del Violino and the Auditorium. The Museo del Violino is a museum of and for the future, it is an active, participatory, empathic museum that was born with a strong idea: to unite under one roof the best of the Cremonese expression, previously divided into three museums.
Maintaining the historical-structural identity of the building designed by Cocchia, we proceeded by diversifying, in the set-ups of the ten rooms, the multiple functions indicated by the Scientific Committee in order to create a unique, dynamic and interactive structure designed with a high communicative profile. Overall, the main areas of the Palazzo dell’Arte project are represented by: Museo del Violino, Temporary Exhibition Pavilion and Auditorium. The needs presented by multimedia represent elements that the architectural project connects in a structured itinerary of knowledge, reading and in-depth analysis, repeatable in a tendential circularity that runs through the building and enhances its focal places.
The architecture of the Auditorium supports the acoustic requirements by assuming, in the global context, a relief with a strong evocative character. The exuberance of its plasticity mentions an expressive and fluid architecture that evolves without interruption with softness of joints, in which everything connects and recovers, in a discursive unity, between calmness and decisive volumetric accents, aspects and intentions, these, designed to represent the movements of the musical composition in three-dimensional form.
Palazzo dell’Arte – The square
Piazza Marconi is reborn. After years of waiting, the decisive intervention of the Arvedi Foundation has made it possible to restore this splendid view of the historic center to the enjoyment of citizens. The Piazza is confronted with the archaeological heritage, it constitutes a necessary reference and an anticipation.
The configuration of the surface, intended for a pedestrian use, combines the many symbols, prefigures and confirms a direction of approach to the Palazzo dell’Arte, incorporating the technical easements of the parking lot below in an artistic dimension that transforms the ventilation grids into craters and convexities distinguished by different materials, and from which a ring of soft night brightness spreads; a wide path paved in light-colored stone, accompanied longitudinally by material “threads” (steel and other metals, which are also transformed into linear benches) and intersected by lines paved in white stone, leading obliquely to the entrance of the Palace, emphasizing the unitary consistency of Piazza Marconi and Palazzo dell’Arte.
Place of urban transformations, the Piazza intends to act as a symbol, anticipating the identity of the Roman classicism that archaeological excavations have made clear, and at the same time anticipating the luthiery and musical identity available at the Palazzo dell’Arte : a nucleus of maples symbolizes the wood of the instruments, the names of the great Cremonese violin-makers and music, which once would have been carved on the walls of buildings, could now camp – alphabetic sculptures – on the surface of the square, or constitute the nucleus of an artistic intervention on the edge of the stone perspective route. Transforming and accumulating: an aesthetic urban meaning is added to the technical objects, partially covering and shading the access and exit ramp to the parking lot, transforming,
The collections in the violin museum is organized into 10 rooms:
Room 1: The origins of the violin – The exhibits in this room explain how and when did the violin came about, as well as showing the instruments that preceded it. The phases leading to the birth of the violin are presented including its spread over northern Italy and into the most important European courts, in particular France, at the time of Catherine de’ Medici;
Room 2: The luthier’s workshop – The room presents the violin making process, and introduces the parts of the violin, and the materials, tools, and techniques used during the violin making process;
Room 3: The spread of the violin – A room that explains the spread of modern violins into Europe and the rest of the world throughout the 16th to 20th century. Excerpts from important concerts performed by famous 20th century violinists can be seen and heard in the listening room;
Room 4: Classical Cremonese violinmaking – The room introduces visitors to the history of Cremonese violinmaking industry and the works of the famous luthier families from Cremona;
Room 5: The treasure chest – This room houses the most important instruments donated to the Town Hall of Cremona, which includes instruments crafted by Antonio Stradivari, and by various members of the Amati and Guarneri families;
Room 6: Stradivarian tools – More than 700 exhibits, from drawings, mounds and tools, passed down to the museum from Antonio Stradivari’s workshop are on display in this room. Most exhibits were donated to the Town Hall of Cremona in 1930 by the famous Italian luthier, Giuseppe Fiorini.
Room 7: The twilight and rebirth of violinmaking – The room is dedicated to the events of Cremonese violinmaking after the death of Antonio Stradivari from the late 17th to early 19th century;
Room 8: The Triennial violin making competitions – Since 1976, a triennial international competition held in Cremona, now organized by the Fondazione Stradivari (The Stradivarian Foundation), has awarded prizes to the best modern instruments selected by a jury composed of luthiers and musicians. The permanent collection of contemporary violinmaking brings together in this room the winning vioins, violas, cellos and double basses from the last 13 competitions;
Room 9: Friends of Stradivari – dedicated to temporary exhibitions of instruments from other collectors and museums; and
Room 10: The violin in the cinema – This is where film clips about Cremonese violin makers are shown.
At the back of the museum, in what was originally the assembly hall of the Palazzo dell’Arte, a 464-seat auditorium named after the entrepreneur, Giovanni Arvedi, was designed and built by archirects Giorgio Palù, Michele Bianchi and acoustical engineer, Yasuhisa Toyota. Soloists and chamber orchestras perform on a small elliptical stage with an area of 85 m2, located in the middle of the room.
In addition, two scientific research laboratories were set up by the Polytechnic of Milan and the University of Pavia, for the scientific study of violin making and diagnostic research.
Outside the museum is the modern sculpture named L’anima della Musica (The soul of music), created by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, depicting a 4-meters tall half-body of a man covered in musical notes.