Passions and Proportions: Christian Schmidt is a violin maker, musician, and painter

20. January 2016

Passions and Proportions

Christian Schmidt is a violin maker, musician, and painter

Christian Schmidt ist Geigenbauer, Musiker und Maler. Bild: © Adlershof Journal

A virgin’s urine for the varnish, wood from trees cut on new moon – there are many myths surrounding the Lombardic violin maker families Amati, Stradivari or Guaneri. All over the world these musical names make the hearts of their admirers race. Sometimes, says musician and violin maker Christian Schmidt, one of these instruments even finds its way into his shop. When he doesn’t build or repair violins, violas, and cellos, the Baselitz-student paints in his studio in Adlershof.

At first it is hard to imagine that the pieces of wood scattered on the workbench will someday become a violin. Countless individual tasks are necessary, using templates, gouges, a luthier’s plane, peg reamers, dovetail saws, and bending irons, until the instrument is completed. It takes about six weeks of work. Traditionally the back and the ribs – the concave wooden pieces that join together the top with the bottom – are made of maple wood, while the top is made of spruce. While the material used for the legendary Italian violins came from the Dolomites, today it comes from Bosnia and the Alpine countries – from an altitude of 1,000 meters.

Schmidt views the violin as a small miracle. It is technically “just a wooden box”, albeit one that is perfectly proportioned. A sculpture imitating the human body that also has the capacity to make music. Schmidt’s fascination with violin making is shaped by his joy and admiration of immaculate proportions. He uses the word “proportions” a lot. It is no mystery to him why the violin originated in the renaissance. At the time the “golden ratio” – which had been around since ancient times – was rediscovered and the practice of art, architecture, and craftwork was praised as the ideal aesthetic principle.

Schmidt started off working as a stucco mason. He couldn’t help feeling as merely an “above-average builder” and decided to study architecture. However, the reality of the job did not match his expectations. He took up paint again while studying – a passion developed in his younger days. Among others he studied under Georg Baselitz at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Schmidt plays the violin, cello, and the guitar – the latter just for “letting the fingers walk” as he says. Today all of this comes together in violin making. The admirer of Modigliani could never imagine choosing only one of these passions. “That’s too constricted.”

Is he an artist? Schmidt is amused by such categorization. Anybody can call himself an artist. Art can be discovered everywhere: a cook, even a massagist can be an artist. He uses such definitions sparingly. Painting to him – as well as making music and building instruments – is all about the process, immersing onself in the work. It’s about that moment when something happens that transcends the profane. “That moment when everything you do comes together.” Schmidt remarks that even if all the parts of a violin or a painting are good, it doesn’t mean it works as a whole. “There is still a possibility that everything goes down the drain. As a painter that’s actually the rule.”

By Rico Bigelmann for Adlershof Journal

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