“As soon as Cataldo Barbara sees the violin, he practically faints. Then he plays it, and there can be no more doubt: it’s a Guarneri”
The Voice of the Violin – Andrea Camilleri
The great thing about visiting museums as eclectic as those on Genoa’s Strada Nuova is that you’re guaranteed some surprises. To gain access to the second of the trio you ascend to the third floor of Palazzo Bianco and emerge to find yourself still at street level thanks to the sloping geography of the city, though it’s not a street that you discover. Another garden awaits, marking the site of a former monastery, and so the first items you encounter within the Palazzo Doria Tursi are fragments from that structure, though these pale into insignificance compared to the grandeur of the palace you’re now entering.
Though it would have been nice to have called this the Palazzo Verde to fit with the neighbours, the colour scheme is wrong and the owners of this building had a name to celebrate. Though originally built in the mid 16th century for the Grimaldis, it was bought by the nephew of the great admiral Andrea Doria (who has appeared here before, and will again) for his son the Duke of Tursi. Why hide behind a colour when you want to play upon your heritage?
Well once you get past the Canova masterpiece (appropriately of Maddalena) then you are treated to numismatic collections, measuring canisters and pharmaceutical jars in volumes that would satisfy any enthusiast in those genres.
Unfortunately my fascination with such items has its limits but I was more than happy to enjoy the building itself, both for the architecture of its internal courtyard and loggia, and the decoration of the rooms
And so I ambled through the palace absorbed in the decoration of ceiling and doorways when one of the attendants stopped me and suggested I pass through a couple of rooms that I had thought closed to the public. In the first it took me a while for my eyes to adjust to the light, but when they did, and I adjusted my camera similarly, I was rewarded by the walls, ceiling and flooring. Understandable that they should wish to protect the room from the sun. What might lie in the second room I wondered?
At first I was underwhelmed. Keeping watch in the corner was a large seated statue of a woman not unlike Queen Victoria, a woman who will play a part in the story of the third palace of Strada Nuova, but what gems was the sentinel keeping watch over? Some sheet music, a few medals and awards. A small sculpture. And two violins.
Their significance might have eluded me were it not for the case that accompanied them. Here was the greatest surprise.
To describe Niccolò Paganini as a virtuoso seems understated for a man who could be described as the originator of modern violin technique, and if you lived in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s you would have heard Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s take on his music as the theme to arts programme The South Bank Show each week before Melvyn Bragg’s nasal tones began the show.
You might expect the star of the show to be a Strad, but no. This is a Guarneri, a violin whose tones were a match for those of Stradivarius, tones which caused Paganini to name this The Cannon. It’s also a great deal more valuable than many Stradivari too. It has a very special provenance.