Instruments - Mandolino artistico

Because of the rarity of the Mandolino artistico models - to me only six are known to have been made; two N. 7 and four N. 8 mandolins - a full description and comparison with other models with artistic features in the Embergher line is given here:

The difference between the artistic models (N. 7 and 8 and to some extent the N. 4 which is often regarded as the artistic variant within the orchestra models) and the other instruments is mainly a matter of a detailed and elaborated decoration. The N. 7 is still very close to the soloist models because the ornamentation consists largely of a sculpted design in a curly pattern of leaves at the end clasp and along the sides of the border-ribs. The head stock is made in two types: the flat guitar like model inlayed with ivory displaying flowers, leaves, faces and child like figures and Embergher's famous ancient lute like design where the neck carries a headstock terminating to a square finial faced in mother of pearl. 

Very similar to the N. 4 orchestra mandolin model is the marking of the positions by carved ivory flowers inlayed in the fingerboard. The plain maple neck and headstock of the N. 7 differ from the N. 4 which is completely covered with tortoise shell on gold veneer. Also, and this is just a small but important distinction, the human figures are left out in the head stock decoration of the N. 4 orchestra- and N. 5 soloist mandolin. The image of the dragon can however also be found on the N. 4.

Apart from it's overall design combined with the finest quality of spruce, ebony and maple woods the materials used that give the N. 7 artistic mandolin its gracious appearance, are: tortoise shell on gold veneer and ivory (for instance used for the scratch plate that can (like on the N. 8) either carry a dragon- or human figure(s). An ivory lining is used to border the edge of the sound board of this model.

Noticeable is that the sound table is always in style with the rest of the instrument but left as plain as possible to keep the instrument's sound as sonorous as possible. Something that is underlined by Silvio Ranieri, one of the finest mandolin virtuosi ever, who was given in 1915 by Embergher himself the gold medal winning mandolin he had made for the 1900 Paris exhibition. It is said that Ranieri found this mandolin superior to all others that he knew. Fortunately I had the opportunity to valuate this very instrument for its insurance at which occasion it proved to be a beautiful crafted artistic carved mandolin model N. 7. This mandolin is particularly interesting because it has a fret board consisting of 31 frets and a zero-fret.

Silvio Ranieri with his Mandolin Artistic model N.7 (1900)

The Mandolino Artistico N. 8 is an instrument of extremely high quality craftsmanship displaying a variety of precious materials. The back of the sound box, neck and headstock are completely covered with tortoise shell on gold and inlayed with ivory. The ivory is mostly engraved and portrays plant motifs, Cupid personages and dragon images while the fingerboard is totally decorated with a flower design. The scratch plate possibilities are the same as with the N. 7 model. The end clasp and the side-ribs are separated from the rest of the belly by a mother of pearl lining. A similar lining is placed on the edge of the soundboard. Another characteristic of this model are the eye-catching engraved ivory turners of the tuning mechanism placed in the headstock which could be manufactured in either the guitar like model or the ancient lute like design.

One of the found N. 8 mandolins is most likely one of the mandolins made for exhibitions to show the extraordinary artistic skill of the Maestro. The instruments bowl, neck and head are overlaid with tortoise shell and inlayed with extensive fine ivory and mother of pearl. The end clasp is decorated with ivory inlayed dragons while the scratch plate is inlayed with putty of black mastic, representing two figures surrounded by leaves executed in ivory and mother of pearl. The head is mounted with rear-facing ivory turners and interestingly because of the, in time, early application of a fingerboard that extends over the sound hole carrying 29 silver-nickel frets.


Mandolin Artistic model N.8 (1895). Photo © Courtesy Sotheby's, London.
Mandolin Artistic model N.8 (1895). Side view and end clasp. Photo © Courtesy William Petit, Paris.

Another known example was ordered by the Russian Tsarina Maria Feodorovna (1847 - 1928) for which Embergher made a richly decorated N. 8 mandolin in 1902.

Mandolin Artistic model N.8 on the cover of the CD 'Omaggio a Luigi Embergher' by 'Het Consort'
Mandolin Artistic model N. 8 on the cover of the book 'Geschiedenis van de Mandoline' by Robert Janssens

The catalogue states the following about this model:

Mandolino artistico

Mandolino N. 7

This instrument is identical to the numbers 5 and 5-bis, it only differs because of the ornaments: the sound box is ornamented with a sculpture in bas-reliëf. An instrument with a beautiful appearance. Price negotiable.

Mandolino N. 8

Mandolin deluxe, the sound box completely covered with tortoise shell, the ribs are completely inlayed with ivory and mother of pearl and hollowed out at the bottom. Extremely artistic and rich ornamentation (see photo). This instrument has been given the highest decoration and has been supplied to royal houses. Price negotiable.


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