Early Guitars and Vihuela

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A guitar from the workshop of Matteo Sellas, Venice c. 1640 (Bernhard Hofstötter)

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Comment by Martyn Hodgson on August 30, 2021 at 7:25

My dear Bernhard,

Thank you for this and I'm sorry I did not explain matters to you with greater care.

What I wished to say was since you agree that 'Clearly, the absence of a piece of wood could not possibly indicate anyone's authorship', then we agree that there is no objective evidence that this particular instrument is by Matteo Sellas or from his 'workshop'. Other features, such as the particular decorative inlays etc, are also evident in instruments by other makers.

regards,

Martyn

Comment by Bernhard Hofstötter on August 24, 2021 at 8:22

Dear Martyn, You must have agreed with your inner self but that agreement luckily does not extend to me. You may (or may not) agree that this discussion (or dialogue des sounds) is a waste of time. I for one certainly do not intend to dedicate any more time to it. Good luck with your research. Bernhard 

Comment by Martyn Hodgson on August 24, 2021 at 6:51

My dear Bernhard,

Hurrah! - I think we are now agreed: in short, there is no more reason to attribute this instrument to Sellas than to any other Italian maker of the era. Perhaps any future liner notes, marketing, etc should make this clear.

regards,

Martyn  

Comment by Bernhard Hofstötter on August 23, 2021 at 13:05

Dear Martyn,

Thank you for your reaction. I think you are misreading what I said earlier. Neither I nor (to my knowledge) any other peresons did say that "a missing piece of wood can be said to strongly indicate that the instrument was by Sellas", as you suggest. The point I was making is slightly more subtle. Clearly, the absence of a piece of wood could not possibly indicate anyone´s authorship. But that absence as such cannot disprove attribution to the Sellas workshop.

Of course, you are free to think about the guitar as you please and to interpret statements made by me and others in ways which suit your preferences. But that is of course not quite the same as saying that you have unlocked the secrets of that guitar.

Best,

Bernhard   

Comment by Martyn Hodgson on August 23, 2021 at 12:18

My dear Bernhard,

Many thanks for your further clarification.

It seems that the only outstanding substantive matter between us is about whether a missing(?) piece of wood can be said to strongly indicate that the instrument was by Sellas as some earlier people (and I think you previously) suggest.  I can see no reason why it is necessary or even prudent to suggest this and, as you know,  I (like Alexandre) prefer to believe that other decorative elements etc are common to many guitar makers of the period - and not just specific to Matteo Sellas.

In short, I suggest that there is no substantive evidence to suppose the instrument may be attributed to Sellas. But, after Alexandre's first rate restoration and correction of an earlier dubious 'restoration' it can now be said that, if not by Sellas or even his 'workshop', this instrument is a decent restored example of a seventeenth century five course guitar.

regards 

Martyn

Comment by Bernhard Hofstötter on August 22, 2021 at 21:43

Dear Martyn,

Here are my reactions to some of your points. I do not comment on restatements of points you had made earlier.

On point 1: I agree. It was just your initial sweeping statement ("this is seventeenth century Italian instrument") that prompted my question.

On point 2: Not tortuous at all. The bottomline is that the relevant piece of wood is no longer extant. Hence, the absence of a brandmark could not possibly disprove attribution to the Sellas workshop.

On point 6: I am in full agreement with the points made in Alexander Batov´s paper which is indeed excellent (I could not think of anyone better placed to comment on the instrument), including his comments on earlier questionable restoration work. However, contrary to what you suggest, Alexander does not address the issue of attribution at all. I have duly noted the "?" after "Sellas" in the title of his paper. Uncertainty is in the nature of any attribution. On this point, you may also be interested to note that Alexander has meanwhile made a copy of the very guitar we are discussing here. On his website, the guitar is described as "based on the original guitar from the workshop of the Sellas family of makers, Venice, c. 1640". 5-course Italinan baroque guitar: 'la guitarra Spagnuola' | based o...   I´ll leave any further interpretation to you.

Comment by Martyn Hodgson on August 17, 2021 at 9:25

Dear Bernhard,

I'll try and answer your own questions:

1. Do you mean to say it could be a Stradivari? No, but it could be a seventeenth century Italian instrument by any other maker than Sellas. Strad's patterns and shape are significantly different to most Italian guitar makers.

2. The point I was trying to make is that the absence of the Sellas brandmark in itself is not sufficient to rule out attribution to the Sellas workshop. This is due to the fact that the piece of wood where one would expect the brandmark is not original.  As I said, this seems an extremely toruous explanation - why not simply accept the straightforward explanation that the stylistic details, inlays, etc might just as well be by another Italian maker of the period? The missing piece of wood could have contained any mark and moreover, as pointed out, 'robbing' an original Sellas of evidential identity would surely significantly reduce the overall monetarey value of the package!

3. Attributions are not my trade and I rely on the experts, as long as someone comes up with a better explanation.Indeed, but as pointed out there are other more reasonable explanations (ie by another Italian maker of the period using the same inlay sources etc, rather than attributing to the most celebrated maker). The information and explanations contained in the other liner notes and the Classical Guitar popular magazine are not compelling.

4. I do not think that your leap from "the very real possibility" to "indeed the likelihood" and finally to "very real doubt on the attribution" is logically very orthodox.The point here is that, in the absence of any substantive evidence attributing this instrument to Sellas, othesr  are a very real possibility and so cast real doubt on the attribution to Sellas - however much it would be nice to have another historic guitar by him.

5. We could know more (about the provenance). In mind here was the ownership of the instrument before it came up at auction in recent times - do we really know nothing more?

6. Have you read Alexander Batov's report in the Lute News? I have, indeed, read Alexander's fine restoration report in Lute News 122 and you'll note he very much shares my concerns about some recent questionable work done on the guitar before it came into his hands. You will also read that he has precisely the same views as I about the inlays, roses etc not necessarily being Sellas’s own work. You will also note that, like me,  Alexander does not to attribute the instrument to Sellas and, indeed, is careful to head his fine pape 'A five-course Sellas(?) guitar' (- note the ?).

Comment by Bernhard Hofstötter on August 13, 2021 at 12:14

Dear Martyn, My comments are in bold below. Best wishes, Bernhard

Many thanks for these links. I had, in fact, already seen them and it was the paucity of actual objective evidence contained in them which led me to contact you directly. [that´s good to know]

In my view, on the available evidence of the general shape and decorative inlays, all that can be really said is that this is seventeenth century Italian instrument [Do you mean to say it could be a Stradivari? I would not agree with that]. Simple assertion is really not sufficient on which to base a proper attribution [agreed]. Further, the lack of any known Matteo Sellas's marks on this instrument, said to be an attempt to place the marks on some other maker's instrument seems a tortuous explanation - indeed, 'robbing' an original Sellas of evidential identity would surely significantly reduce the overall monetarey value of the package! [That is of course not what I said in the liner notes. The point I was trying to make is that the absence of the Sellas brandmark in itself is not sufficient to rule out attribution to the Sellas workshop. This is due to the fact that the piece of wood where one would expect the brandmark is not original]

It is, of course, perfectly understandable that the instrument is wished to be attributed to one of the most famous makers of the period [For the sake of clarity, I do not hold any wish to that end. The guitar is what it is and an attribution is what is it. Attributions are not my trade and I rely on the experts, as long as someone comes up with a better explanation]. However the lack of real objective evidence to support this and the very real possibility, indeed the likelehood, of other more reasonable (if not as exciting) explanations casts very real doubt on the attribution to Sellas [I do not know what you find exciting. Purely from a player's perspective I can say that there a few things I consider more exciting than playing that instrument (just to be clear, I am aware that this is not a point proving or disproving any attribution). However, I do not think that your leap from "the very real possibility" to "indeed the likelihood" and finally to "very real doubt on the attribution" is logically very orthodox.]

The lack of evidenced historical provenance before it appears at auctions in 2004 and 2015 also is of concern - do we really know nothing more? [We could know more. The engraved coat of arms on the pegbox could be deciphered and would most likely lead us to one of the former owners of the guitar. Deciphering it is a painstaking and time-consuming task. But anyone who has some time to spare could do it, with the help of the pertinent books of reference]

Finally, the liner notes appear to suggest that the instrument is in its original seventeenth century state. However, ... the specialist organological journal FoMRHI Quarterly. [Have you read Alexander Batov's report in the Lute News? Myself being just a humble player, I have no intention of publishing a paper on the organological aspects of the instrument.]

Comment by Martyn Hodgson on August 1, 2021 at 8:39

Dear Bernhard,

Many thanks for these links. I had, in fact, already seen them and it was the paucity of actual objective evidence contained in them which led me to contact you directly.

In my view, on the available evidence of the general shape and decorative inlays, all that can be really said is that this is seventeenth century Italian instrument. Simple assertion is really not sufficient on which to base a proper attribution. Further, the lack of any known Matteo Sellas's marks on this instrument, said to be an attempt to place the marks on some other maker's instrument seems a tortuous explanation - indeed, 'robbing' an original Sellas of evidential identity would surely significantly reduce the overall monetarey value of the package! 

It is, of course, perfectly understandable that the instrument is wished to be attributed to one of the most famous makers of the period. However the lack of real objective evidence to support this and the very real possibility, indeed the likelehood, of other more reasonable (if not as exciting) explanations casts very real doubt on the attribution to Sellas.

The lack of evidenced historical provenance before it appears at auctions in 2004 and 2015 also is of concern - do we really know nothing more?

Finally, the liner notes appear to suggest that the instrument is in its original seventeenth century state. However, the statement that no earlier 'irreversible changes' were evident suggests that restoration of earlier reversible changes have, perhaps, more recently been made and it would be helpful to know precisely what these may have been. Similarly for the modern restoration work undertaken. Perhaps you might consider publishing more details of all these matters in, say, the specialist organological journal FoMRHI Quarterly.

regards,

Martyn

Comment by Martyn Hodgson on August 1, 2021 at 8:38

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