Silvestro Ganassi: a documented biography

January 2nd, 2021

A new article by Marco Di Pasquale is filled with archival references, a striking omission in many earlier works on Ganassi. Here’s a summary from the publisher:

The over fifty documents, many hitherto unpublished, transcribed in the appendix allow us to reconstruct various aspects of the life of Silvestro Ganassi (Venice, 1492–?, after 1571). His family of birth, originally from the Bergamo area, had settled in Venice by 1492, with his home and father’s barbershop in the vicinity of the “fontego della farina” at Rialto, from which the Ganassis derived the nickname that distinguished them from the many others answering to the same surname. The family nucleus consisted of four brothers: Girolamo, Giovanni and Venturino in addition to Silvestro. Girolamo became piffaro del doge and married Maria, belonging to the wealthy Renio family of citizen rank. Giovanni combined the professions of instrumentalist and barber. Concerning Venturino nothing is known. Between the early sixteenth century and the middle of the following century, other Ganassis, most probably related to the “dal Fontego” branch, are indicated as instrumentalists and composers working in Venice, Bologna, Rome, Belluno, Treviso and perhaps Florence. Silvestro had two sons from a woman whose identity is unknown: Antonio and Giovanni Battista. The former, who obtained a degree in law at the University of Padua, married Camilla Calza, daughter of a Paduan count, with whom he had at least four daughters, who, following the early death of their parents, were entrusted to the care of Silvestro. Giovanni Battista, on the other hand, followed in his father’s footsteps, he too becoming a piffaro del doge and achieving fame as a virtuoso on the cornett. Most likely Silvestro entered into a second marriage with Urania, daughter of Giovanni Bembo, a member of a junior branch of a Venetian family of ancient lineage. As regards his working life, Silvestro was noted not only as a piffaro del doge, but also as a member of an independent company of instrumentalists formed completely or in part by family members, as a virtuoso of the viola da gamba and lute engaged in the ridotti promoted by the noblemen and intellectuals of the city, and as a teacher of music. A certain number of authoritative sources attest that, in addition to all this, he also successfully practised the art of painting. Finally, from the documentation discovered and considerations of the context in which Silvestro and his relations found themselves working one may propose clarifications and conjectures on their relations with people and institutions (even outside Venice), on the size of their estate, and on the publication process of Silvestro’s famous treatises.

The editor offers a PDF sample that can be accessed through this link.

  • Di Pasquale, Marco (2020). “Silvestro Ganassi: a documented biography.” Recercare XXXI/1-2 2019, pp. 29–102. ISBN 9788855430319.