Violins + Cellos

The violin, viola, and cello were first made in the early 16th century, in Italy. The earliest evidence for their existence is in paintings by Gaudenzio Ferrari from the 1530s, though Ferrari's instruments had only three strings. The Academie musicale, a treatise written in 1556 by Philibert Jambe de Fer, gives a clear description of the violin family much as we know it today.

Violins are likely to have been developed from a number of other string instruments of the 15th and 16th centuries, including the vielle, rebec, and lira da braccio. The history of bowed string instruments in Europe goes back to the 9th century with the Byzantine lira (or lūrā, Greek: λύρα).

Since their invention, the violin family have seen a number of changes. The overall pattern for the instrument was set in the 17th century by luthiers like the prolific Amati family, Jakob Stainer of the Tyrol, and Antonio Stradivari, with many makers at the time and since following their templates.

The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911) of the 9th century, was the first to cite the bowed Byzantine lira as a typical instrument of the Byzantines and equivalent to the rabāb used in the Islamic Empires of that time. The Byzantine lira spread through Europe westward and in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments (Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009). In the meantime rabāb was introduced to the Western Europe possibly through the Iberian Peninsula and both bowed instruments spread widely throughout Europe giving birth to various European bowed instruments.

Over the centuries that followed, Europe continued to have two distinct types of bowed instruments: one, relatively square-shaped, held in the arms, known with the Italian term lira da braccio (meaning viol for the arm) family; the other, with sloping shoulders and held between the knees, known with the Italian term lira da gamba (or viola da gamba, meaning viol for the leg) group. During the Renaissance the gambas were important and elegant instruments; they eventually lost ground to the louder (and originally viewed as less aristocratic) lira da braccio family of the modern violin.

Instruments of approximately 300 years of age, especially those made by Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, are the most sought after instruments (for both collectors and performers). In addition to the skill and reputation of the maker, an instrument's age can also influence both price and quality.