The Sammacchini bow

When I was asked to make a bow for a 16th century viol recently restored by Master Federico Lowenberger, I was faced with two options: to copy a surviving bow of the same period (1,2,3), or to make a bow based on iconographic evidence.

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The painting Madonna con bambino, S.Petronio e Maria Maddalena (4) by Orazio Samacchini (1532-1577) shows a viol and a bow. The viol depicted here is, if not identical, remarkably similar to the one being restored, and the drawing for this painting (5) reveals many details of the bow and of the player’s technique. Another work by the same artist, a fresco in the church of S. Abbondio in Cremona, clearly shows the tip of a bow of the same type.
The idea of making a bow based on the paintings by Samacchini became more and more attractive and so I decided to proceed, despite being aware of the fact that a reconstruction based even only partly on iconographic sourcescan never recreate exactly the original item, and always bearing in mind both the surviving bows and the other iconographic evidence.
The Samacchini drawing allowed me to calculate the possible length and maximum diameter of the
stick. This latter detail suggested that the wood used for the stick was of low density. Cherry wood was myfirst choice from the types of wood known to have been used in Italy in that period. From the surviving bows, I was able to calculate the proportionate decrease in diameter of the stick and I applied this factor to the measurements taken from the drawing. The shape of the tip was inspired by the fresco in S. Abbondio church, and the frog was an exact copy of the surviving Bologna bow 3; its dimensions closely matched those depicted by Samacchini.
After several prototypes I made a bow (see 6 for details) which allowed players to use exactly the same hand andbow positions as those shown in the iconography, and to play music of the period in so natural a way that I could not have hoped forbetter.


  • 1) Kunst Historisches Museum Wien (KHM) sam 81,sam 84.
  • 2) KHM sam 74, sam 76, sam 77, sam 78, sam 79, sam 82, sam 86, sam 107 and specially sam 75 e sam 83
  • 3) Accademia filarmonica di Bologna ( AccFilBo) Italian viol bow existant in the academy since 1608
  • 4) Orazio Sammacchini (1532-1577) “Madonna con bambino S. Petronio Maria Maddalena” Private collection.
  • 5) Orazio Sammacchini drawing belonging to the "Custodia Collection", Paris
  • 6) Lenght 710 mm, larger diameter 16 mm, frog’s height 35 mm, frog’s width 14 mm, hair-stick gap 31 mm, tip length 66 mm, tip height 21 mm, tip width 12 mm, weight 84 gr.
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