Italy System-Milan School (Milan School)

The Milanese School of violin making began with Giovanni Grancino (1637–1709) and his brother Francesco Grancino, whose unique style evolved into the School’s hallmark and promoted its later development.

It is said that Giovanni Grancino had been an apprentice of Nicolò Amati, though his instruments differ greatly from the Amati in the choice of wood, color and texture of varnish, and construction design. We believe that these differences bestowed the Milanese School with its eccentric style, which prevailed in the northern Italian city of Milan from 1680s to 1820s.

An anecdote also contributed to a significant impact on the Milanese School. In 1708, Giovanni Battista Grancino (1673–ca.1730) , son of the aforementioned Giovanni, inadvertently killed Antonio Maria Lavazza (1683–1708) during a fight. Although he evaded the execution, after the demise of his father in the following year, their property was confiscated, their workshop license invalidated, thus the workshop had to be taken over by their apprentice Carlo Giuseppe Testore (ca.1660–1716) . Since then, Giovanni Battista Grancino could only make instruments in secret.

It was not long before the Testores became one of the major families of violin making in Milan. Carlo Giuseppe died a few years after taking over the workshop, leaving it into the hands of his sons Carlo Antonio (1693–c1765) and Paulo Antonio (1700–1767) . The Testore family remained active in violin making in Milan until Giovanni Testore (1724–1765) , son of Carlo Antonio.

The Landolfi family succeeded the Testore family, to begin with Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi (c1710–1784) who learned the craft from Carlo Giuseppe Testore. However, Landolfi’s work deviates from the typical Milanese style and somewhat resembles that of Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, of the Piedmont School.

Carlo Ferdinando’s son Pietro Antonio Landolfi (c1730–1795) and Pietro Giovanni Mantegazza (c1730–1803) , apprentice of their workshop represented another branch of violin making and collector family in Milan. The Mantegazza family flourished from 1760 to 1824, and after the death of Pietro Giovanni, the mantle was taken over by his two sons, Francesco (1762–1824) and Carlo (1772–1814).

Giacomo Rivolta combined various characteristics of Stradivari and Mantegazza, including deep channeling along the edges and developed his own style of violin making. Most of his works were violas and violoncellos of “grand pattern”; on the contrary, he made very little violins. Between 1820 and 1840 Rivolta’s craftsmanship reached its mature stage, with his violas now renowned worldwide. Rivolta played an indispensable role in the history of viola development and was recognized as the last master of the Milanese School.

Instruments of the Milanese School are characterized by their deep channeling, with the backs made of little flamed wood. The violas and violoncellos are especially famed, mostly with dark red and amber-colored varnish. The backs were often decorated with blackened inscribed lines rather than purflings. Although not considered costly instruments, Milanese violas and violoncellos still retained an important place in the history of musica.