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Virtual Tour of
"Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna:
Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance

Mandolin by Antonio Vinaccia, Naples, 1772

NMM 10006.  Mandolin by Antonio Vinaccia, Naples, 1772.

NMM 10006. Mandolin by Antonio Vinaccia, Naples, 1772. There is no question about the dating of this gorgeous instrument, built by a prominent member of the leading family of mandolin makers in Naples. In typical mid-18th-century style, there is a spruce table (for acoustical reasons, the tops of stringed instruments are made of a softwood, while the bodies are of a hardwood for structural reasons) with tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl decoration and whimsical f-holes carved on each side of the soundhole, a beautifully carved bridge, the back of twenty scalloped ribs of maple with ebony/ivory/ebony stringing, the neck and head covered with tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl, and exquisite pegs with mother-of-pearl inserts, all in untouched condition, including the varnish, and ready to be played.

Vinaccia mandolin soundhole.

Mandolin soundhole flanked by two whimsical f-holes.

Berlioz was introduced to mandolins in Italy, but by the time he published his treatise on instrumentation (1844/55), he called the instrument "almost obsolete," and said that in France, at least, it was always embarrassing, whenever Mozart's Don Giovanni was to be performed, because mandolin players were not to be found and guitars or pizzicato violins would be used, much to his dismay. Berlioz was not always a reliable prophet, however; before the end of the century, mandolin orchestras were all the rage, playing transcriptions of orchestral music, among other things. Another Vinaccia mandolin, also dated 1772, can be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Board of Trustees, 2001.

Fingerboard of Vinaccia mandolin.

Front of Vinaccia mandolin peghead. Side of Vinaccia mandolin peghead. Back of Vinaccia mandolin peghead.

Three views of the mandolin's peghead.

Source:  André P. Larson, Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna: Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance 1789-1848, with essay by John Koster, exhibition catalog, Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, September 12-November 2, 2003 (Vermillion: National Music Museum 2003), title page and p. 70.

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Most recent update: March 1, 2014

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