Just Four Families Influenced The Shape Of The Modern Violin

Four families likely influenced the shape of the violin over 400 years, with many imitating famous designs such as the Stradivarius, according to a US study.

To better characterise the history of the violin, how its shape has changed over time, and how its compares among different violin makers, the author analysed the evolution of the violin by family, sampling the body shapes from photographs of more than 9,000 instruments over four centuries.

According to a study in the journal PLOS ONE by Daniel Chitwood from Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri, the first violins appeared in 16th century Italy.

Since then designers have continued to incorporate numerous innovations to improve the acoustical properties and playability of violins.

However, details of the body outline can vary without significantly compromising sound quality and may instead reflect other factors,
such as history.

To better characterise the history of the violin, how it has changed over time, and how its shape compares among different violin makers, the study analysed the evolution of the violin shape by family.

The four major clusters include Maggini, Stradivari, Amati, and Stainer.

The clustering suggests that makers likely copied the outlines of their instruments from others, which historical accounts corroborate.

Together, the analysis of four centuries of violin shapes demonstrates not only the influence of history and time leading up to the design of the modern violin, but widespread imitation and the transmission of design by human relatedness.

Daniel Chitwood says shape is information that tells us a story and can inform us about the historical forces shaping our lives and creativity.

“In the case of violins, their architecture was influenced by consumer preference and resulted in mimicry between violin makers, as well as by genetic lineages and human relatedness, through which information, in the form of shape, passed from one generation to the next,” he says.

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