Instrument Makers of the Stainer Family

Jacob (Absam, Austria, c. 1617-83) is the earliest and most important Austrian violin maker whose model influenced violin making in Germany, parts of Italy and several other countries. It is not known where he learned his trade, but his painstaking and elegant craftsmanship indicate that he may have had an association with the great makers of Cremona, Italy, particularly the Amati family. His instruments were in demand all over Europe until the appearance of those made by Antonio Stradivari, whose flatter and broader models had greater power. Stainer's instruments, however, are still cherished and can hold their own with the best of Cremonese makers. Many imitations of his work exist, but his creations are so personal and original that genuine examples can be recognized by an expert in the field.

Some characteristic features of his instruments are the relatively broad lower back, higher arching of the belly than the back, beautifully cut scrolls and, in some cases, beautifully carved heads of lions, angels, or women, and varnish ranging in color from amber to orange-red, comparable in brilliance to Cremonese varnish.

Jacob Stainer violins are comparatively rare today. A few violas, including a viola di bordone and a viola bastarda, are known. Few, if any, violoncellos exist that are known to be of his hand; his double-basses are of great rarity. Also extant are some viola da gambas and viola da gambas that were converted to violoncellos.

Typical label: Jacobus Stainer in Absam
prope Oenipontum fecit 1663

(i.e., made near Oenipontus, Latin for "Innsbruck")

Marcus (c. 1633-93), often erroneously described as Jacob=s brother, lived first at Absam, then at Küfstein, and finally at Laufen, and is thought to have been a monk. He made only a small number of instruments, several of which may have been passed off as Jacob's work.

Typical label: Marcus Stainer
bügerl: Lautten und
Geigenmacher in Küfstein
in Tyrol, 1647

(i.e., citizen: lute and violin maker, etc.)

Prepared by the Division of Music, Sports and Entertainment
in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, Smithsonian Institution
PIMS/MUS28/rev 3/01