Violin (Matthijs IV Hofmans)


violin HofmansThis violin, catalogue no. 2792, bears a label with the signature "Matthys Hofmans tot Antwerpen 1665".  The Antwerp Hofmans family was active in violin making from the 16th to the 18th century.  This violin must undoubtedly be attributed to the most famous member of the family, Matthijs IV Hofmans (1622-1672).

For the sound board Hofmans used a native species of wood.  Violins normally have a sound board made of spruce, but in this instrument it is fir, a common species of wood in temperate climatic zones.  The sides (ribs), back and neck of the instrument are made of maple, as in the majority of violins.

This violin was built following a technique common at the time in the South Netherlands, whereby the ribs were anchored in a groove on the inside of the back and in slots at the base of the neck of the instrument (image 3).

This construction technique has long fallen into disuse. Today violins are constructed using a technique developed in Italy in the seventeenth century. In this method the ribs are shaped around a mould.  When ready, the mould is removed and the back, front and neck are glued to the ribs (images 4-5-6).

This procedure favours a more standardized production than the assembly technique with grooves, although that method was certainly older.  It is in fact a result of the original construction method based on grooves that the back and the top of a violin extend beyond the ribs, unlike the viola da gamba.  It is also because the ribs were originally set into slots that they form a right-angle at the base of the neck.  This characteristic again distinguishes the violin from the viola da gamba, whose sloping shoulders result from an assembly technique whereby the ribs are glued to a block of wood that joins the sound board to the neck.

This violin made by Matthijs Hofmans comes from the former collection of César Snoeck (1834-1898), a notary from Ronse (Flanders).  His private collection grew to become one of the largest in the world at the time, containing over two thousand items.  After his death the collection was dispersed, but in 1908 the mim was able to acquire an important group of instruments from the Low Countries, thanks to the generous patronage of Louis Cavens (1850-1940).

Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans

translation Fiona Shotter

Violin, Matthijs Hofmans, Antwerp, 1665, inv. 2792
original construction method based on grooves
ribs, clamped around the mould