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Amati Violin and Friends

Fiddle.  Some would say we have one in the foyer of the Old Tullie House; the one that was made in the 1560s by Andrea Amati.  Some violinists might be quite indignant if they heard it called a fiddle.  Most seem not to mind and many call their own instruments fiddles.

ViolinsOK then. Fiddle – a word developed slowly through the medieval period that can mean any bowed instrument.

It appears that the Arab world gave us the kick-start on fiddles in the 8th or 9th centuries in the shape of a gourd with strings stretched over it – the ‘rabab’ or ‘rebec’.  In Europe it was carved from wood.  Maybe all that carving effort was too much and gave the luthiers of old the idea to make a built-up wooden box instead.

 

If it hadn’t been for that leap forward the Old Tullie House might be graced with something rather different by Andrea Amati.  The five instruments – all fiddles if we go by the definition above – that have joined it there might have been all rather different too.  But no, the viola, the viol da gamba, the viola d’amore, the pochette violin and the tiny violin are all wonderful wooden boxes of maple, spruce, pine, ebony, ivory, bone and boxwood.  Boxes, but ones of just the right shape, weight, thickness, density to be quite wonderful things.

Violins2Andrea Amati’s violin, which has stood alone in Old Tullie House for a good number of years, is an amazing survivor from the court orchestra of King Charles IX of France.  That it is 450 years old almost beggars belief.  When it was made; Elizabeth I had been queen for eight years, the Spanish Armada was not even a glint in Philip II’s eye. It is one of the oldest violins in the world, and it survived the French Revolution.

The five instruments new to Old Tullie House are all rather younger, three of them 18th century, the viola is early 19th century, and the tiny “toy” 16cm-long violin late 19th.  All survivors, if only from the ravages of children.

The miniature violin is included in the display to represent the local makers of Cumbria in the Tullie collection – Maghie, Birtles, Scott.  I wish we could tell you the names of the luthiers who made the elegant viola d’amore with its 13 strings, the rather rustic viol da gamba that at one time had ten strings but now has just four, and the pochette violin (somebody said “dinky” the other day) which would have been played for the better off as they honed their ballroom skills – but not one of those instruments has a maker’s mark that can be seen.

They are on show now for the first time in more than 20 years.  To add to the spectacle, a new Collection Conversation has been developed around them.  You can find out more about how a violin is made; what Mr Amati came up with that makes the violin different to its contemporaries, and more about the origins of the instrument, with a replica soprano rebec that you can handle.  You can even try to play it if you feel bold and want your cat to write a sympathy card.

For their help in putting these instruments on show, and developing the collection conversation, Tullie House would like to thank:

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Anthony Calvert, of the Early Music Shop, Salts Mill, Saltaire, W.Yorks
Corrie Schrijver, violin maker and restorer of Brampton, Cumbria
James Rawes, violin maker and restorer, of Cotehill, Carlisle, Cumbria

 

Picture this….

ORIGINAL BROWNIE

Tullie staff’s interaction with visitors is often memorable; I never cease to be amazed at the turns our conversations with visitors can take.  Recently in Old Tullie House, a very elderly man and his grown-up granddaughter appeared.  We started talking about the Pre-Raphaelite artists, but the conversation swung to how the young woman was about to start the third year of her degree in photography as fine art.

Her course was heavily film-based; that’s to say very little digital and lots of rolls and sheets of film and long, absorbing hours of darkroom work.  The grandfather’s love of photography had infected her, and she was taking an opportunity he had never had.  He was clearly bursting with pride and was overjoyed that she understood film.

There’ll be plenty now who have never seen a roll of film but will doubtless have seen a film camera – maybe in a junk shop or car boot sale or in the back of that rarely-opened drawer.

Recently I started a trawl through the cameras in the Tullie collection, improving their descriptions on our database.  It was interesting to see how many of the very old simple cameras are still fully functional, and to be reminded how solidly even some of the cheapest of them were built.  Of course “cheap” is relative.

They deserve attention, after all these old cameras were in at the beginning of popular photography and are the devices that gave us our most detailed social record.  This year the People of Earth are expected to take well in excess of one TRILLION photos.

What surprised me a little was that more than half the 90-or-so cameras in the collection turned out to be Kodak-made.  They are mostly the cameras of the “common man” (although for years Kodak’s advertising deigned to acknowledge that even a woman could take a photo). They are also of a time when photography was still something quite special.  The majority are box and folding cameras, the earliest about 1898, the latest about 1984, with the 70s and 80s represented by the odd Instamatic and one or two cine cameras. There are no what you would call “good” modern cameras. There are a few amazing pieces of machinery in the collection.  But a, or better, THE stand-out camera of the lot is this model of simplicity pictured here.

This unassuming black box camera is the camera that took photography into the price-bracket of the ordinary person.  This is THE Kodak Brownie of 1900-1901.  The one-dollar camera.  That was about five shillings, or 25p, in Britain then.  Add another dollar and you could buy a Brownie and a film AND get it processed and probably get fish and chips for two with the change*.

Kodak made 245,000 original Brownies from February 1900 to October 1901. They were wooden boxes with a mostly cardboard interior (check out the picture – you almost feel you could make one at home).

They had a simple metal rotary shutter and took just half a dozen pictures 6cm square on 117-size roll film.  The small box on top of the camera is a reflecting viewfinder, which could be bought as an accessory.  Without it the user had to almost imagine what would be in the photograph using two lines marked on the camera body as a reference.

The Brownie is fully functioning, and in remarkable condition taking into account its age, construction and the amount of use it could have had.

*Fish and chips in 1901, say 3d or a bit less maybe?  So taking inflation into account, about £1.50 each now?

Andy Whysall – Curatorial Assistant

Welcome to the Tullie House blog page

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This is the place to find exciting and interesting posts covering all manner of subjects. This blog will give you an insight into behind the scenes at Tullie as well as keeping you up to date on all up and coming exhibitions and events.

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