Alt italienischer Lack

In order to better understand the varnish tradition of the 16th-18th century, the original coatings of stringed musical instruments manufactured by various lute and violin makers, were examined and compared to historic sources.


  • Lead school Bern Academy of the Arts
  • Institute Institute Materiality in Art and Culture 
  • Research unit Technology in Art and Culture
  • Funding organisation Others
  • Duration 01.06.2018 - 31.05.2021
  • Project management Dr. Stefan Zumbühl
  • Head of project Dr. Stefan Zumbühl
  • Project staff Jacques Balthazar Soulier
  • Partner Karolina Blaberg Stiftung


The analytical data unveiled, that the varnishes were made from drying oil and resins from the Pinaceae family, with the addition of pumice and bone ash. First mentions on the use of these additives as drying agents date back to the time well before violin making. To evaluate the effect of pumice and bone ash as drying agents, oil/colophony varnishes containing different amounts of pumice and bone ash were produced. Due to the fineness of the solid and the high viscosity of the varnish, the components can be mixed to a stable suspension. Varnishes with ground pumice remain quite transparent, since the refractive index of pumice powder is very close to that of oil and colophony. Depending on the concentration of solids, however, they may show an inherent brownish colour.