Plowden Guarneri


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The 'Plowden' Giuseppe Guarneri "del Gesu", 1735

The Plowden Guarneri is unmatched in wood, varnish, or style. The elegant f-holes are refined in execution and moderate in style, but show the sweeping lines associated with Guarneri's mature work. The purfling is substantial, with a wider white then typical for Guarneri, and well formed "bee sting" miters. The scroll has crisp, faceted carving and deep sculpting. The color-varnish is thick and intensely colored, and lies relatively close to the wood, unlike later period Guarneris, which often have a thick clear coat under the color varnish. The spectacular one-piece back has deep, wide and very slanted flames (The search for matching wood has been the despair of many copyists!)

The Plowden is a remarkably seductive violin to play, and while not as obviously powerful as the Titian Strad, it has a compellingly smooth and dark sound, quick response, and a buttery feel. The low and flat top arching coupled with a low bass bar gives this violin great depth and ease of response.

Sound analysis of Plowden reveals a quite prominent AO (air resonance) and B1-, and a lower frequency B1+ (the "wolf-tone resonance") all of which indicate a flexible structure, even with the strong thicknesses of the top and especially the back. The lower output in the 2-4 KHz "brilliance" range, by contrast, accentuates the strong low frequency response, adding to the booming bass character. Interestingly, the violin has strong output in the 800-1400 Hz (so-called "nasal" region). With a very full and warm sounding instrument like the Plowden, this adds some welcome "presence" and definition to the sound, and increases its ability to "cut" through an ensemble.

Francois Denis has analyzed and recreated the underlying proportional design of the Plowden and Titian violins (see Two Forms, Strad3D)

Provenance By Christopher Ruening

By 1735, Giuseppe Guarneri, the last of the great dynasty, had become the most productive and creative maker in Cremona. He made nearly a dozen violins every year from the finest available materials covered with the most spectacular varnish imaginable. By this point, he had developed his own personal style, breaking away from the traces of his father's model. Perhaps it was Guarneri's success that revitalized the waning days of the Stradivari workshop and the other exceptional local talent, Carlo Bergonzi, for these three workshops in the 1730s made Cremona once again the epicenter of great violin making.

The "Plowden" represents Guarneri's middle period, the most recognizable and imitated since the 19th century. The harmonious form demonstrates the balance of earlier Cremonese designs and foreshadows del Gesu's later and more expressive work.

The violin was named for its first recorded owner, the London collector C.H. Chichele Plowden, who was called "the most reputed amateur of his day" by Arthur Hill. Plowden purchased the violin from London dealer John Hart; he also owned the d'Egville, King Joseph, Dushkin, and Ole Bull Guarneri's. In 1866 collector Louis D'Egville Sr. purchased the Plowden and the now named "D'Egville" from the London dealer George Hart.

The Plowden remained with the D'Egville family until 1900 when W.E. Hill & Sons sold it to the greatest collector of all, the Baron Johann Knoop. Ten years later, Hill & Sons sold it to the Madrid violinist Enrique Fernandez Arbos who, "has taken a violent fancy to our fine Guarnerius," according to the Hills. In 1924, they sold it to the famed collector Richard Bennett who owned throughout his life no less than 15 of the finest del Gesus. In 1929, Hills sold the violin to the Connecticut collector John T. Roberts. In 1944, the Rembert Wurlitzer firm sold it to William Rosenwald. Finally, in 1987, though J. & A. Beare of London, it found its way to its current owner, Mark Ptashne, whereupon it was reunited with the D'Egville.