Fig. 2 Bernardo Bellotto, Ponte Navi a Verona, oil on canvas, 1745-1756, Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen 


Fig. 3 Giovanni Battista Martini  Catalogo Degli Aggregati Della Accademia Filarmonica Di Bologna (Ms)

Fig.4 Gaspar van Wittel, Verona: A View of the River Adige at San Giorgio in Braida, oil on copper, 1700-1710, private collection. 

Verona, during the XVI and the beginning of the XVII century, was a flourishing city in the heart of the Venetian land holdings in North of Italy. Due to its strategic location, dominating a commercial crossroad essential for the Venetian trades with the Duchy of Milan towards West, Austria to the North and the Papal State to the South, Verona experienced an economic wealth that is well showed by its zealous cultural life.

However, after the catastrophic consequences of the plague in the 1630 – the number of citizens in the city dropped from 53.333, according to the census conducted in 1626, to 20.738 at the end of the epidemic – the city had to face several tough decades of slow economic recovery, reflected at the same time on the very limited resources that the institutions of the town and the private citizens could allocate to the arts in general.

Scipione Maffei (1675-1755), the most famous and influent aristocratic, politician and literate of Verona, left us a testimony of how the cultural life in Verona got back on its feet in the second half of the XVI century. He doesn't speak about any economic recovery but he talks in terms of a rediscovery of those “ancient” ideals and of the “good taste” in all the arts that finally came back to make flourish Verona again.

And the life of Giuseppe Torelli, as well as his brother Felice – famous painter, who will be Giuseppe's close companion during his entire life – too, are definitely proving this tendency.

Although the name “Torelli” appears in the city of Verona already from the XIV century, as stated on a tombstone in the church of S. Anastasia, and although several families under this same name can be found in the archives of the city also in the following three centuries, Giuseppe's father, Messer Stefano Torelli, was not native of Verona. He was born around 1615 in Rovigo, that was part of the Republic of Venice as well, and he came to Verona in 1635. In 1644, he got married with Anna Boninsegna, daughter of Zuanne and Giovanna Boninsegna. In the following years they had nine sons: Elisabetta, Ginevra, Giovanni Battista, Giovanni, Orsola, Iseppo (Giuseppe), Antonio, Michelangelo and Felice.


During his youth he learned to play the violin and the art of composition in Verona. The historian Raffaello Brenzoni has presented the hypothesis that the musician Giuliano Massarotti could have been one of his first teachers, since he was living in the same neighbourhood in the parish of S. Maria in Chiavica4.


The information that we have about the beginning of Giuseppe's musical carrier date back to the 15th of May 1676, when he took part in a musical performance during the service of the Vespers in the church of S. Stefano in Verona. There are also records of his activity in the musical chapel of the cathedral of his hometown, again as a violinist, from the summer of 1683 to the one of the following year – with an annual salary of 15 ducats5.

Fig. 1  Bernardo Bellotto, Veduta di Verona con Castelvecchio e il ponte scaligero da monte dell'Adige, oil on canvas, 1745, Verona, collection of Fondazione Cariverona  

On the 25th of September 1679 Stefano got appointed Ministro di Sanità (Minister of Health), also called Soprastante (Superintendent)at the Dogana dell'Isolo. There were at that time two Customhouses in the city of Verona: the main one, Dogana dell'Isolo, located between the bridges Pignolo and delle Seghe on the minor branch of the river Adige, intended to be used as the checkpoint for all of the goods imported from central Europe, and the second one situated at the Ponte Navi on the right side of the Adige (used, on the contrary, for those goods coming from Venice). Nowadays we can easily understand the importance of such a role – and certanly it has been essential at that time, when the memory of the Black Death was still vividly imprinted in people's mind – to be in charge for the operations of gathering, sanitizing and sorting all of the goods traded with the northern European countries in order to guarantee the efficiency of the trading system and at the same time to prevent or reduce any risk of epidemic from diseases coming from different parts of the World.

Stefano was re-elected four consecutive times for this role, office that he kept for 14 years – until 1693, as it is stated in his death certificate.

Let us now come to Giuseppe. He was born on the 22nd of April 1658 and he got baptized in the church of S. Maria in Chiavica two days later. As mentioned before, he was the sixth one out of nine brothers, the youngest one is Felice, who will be Giuseppe's close companion during his entire life. It is interesting to see how the lives of these two brothers got interconnected to each other. They both shared the same passion for music and figurative arts, as Pellegrino Antonio Orlandi states in his L'Abecedario pittorico in 1704. Giuseppe apparently showed more of an inclination for painting during his childhood while the brother, Felice, a predisposition for music. But later on, it seems that the two brothers interchanged with each other the paintbrush and the violin.



(Felice) Parve da giovanetto portato dal capriccio al suono, e Gioseffo il fratello maggiore alla pittura, ma riuscendo all'uno, ed all'altro stranieri que' principi cambiarono partito, applicando Gioseffo al violino, in cui riuscì quel famoso Sonatore tanto acclamato dalla Germania, e dall'Italia, che gode le opere sue stampate, e Felice attendendo la pittura nella scuola di Gio: Gioseffo dal Sole, al giorno d'oggi maneggia con franchezza i pennelli in Bologna.


[(Felice), when he was a child, showed an aptitude for music, while the older brother Gioseffo a predisposition for painting, but since they both found themselves extraneous to those disciplines they changed party in such a way that Gioseffo committed himself to the violin, for which he turned out to become that famous performer so much acclaimed in Germany and Italy – which benefits from his printed compositions, and Felice learned painting at the school of Gioseffo dal Sole, handling nowadays the paintbrushes with frankness in Bologna]2



According to the information given by Padre Martini about Giuseppe Torelli in his Catalogue of the Accademici in Bologna, Iseppo took his first steps in his music education in his hometown.



Nell'anno 1651 in circa nacque Giuseppe Torelli in Verona, e nel fiore di sua età apprese così perfettamente l'Arte della Musica nel suonare il violino, e nel comporre, che la fama ne riportò il chiaro grido per tutte le Province dell'Europa. Fu uomo non solo di costumi docili, ed umili, ma ancora erudito, ed eloquente. [...]


[Around 1651Giuseppe Torelli was born in Verona and during his youth he learned so perfectly the Art of Music, by playing the violin and composing, that his fame got acclaimed through all the Provinces of Europe. He was a man of docile and humble manners, but also erudite and eloquent3 .(...)]


Verso il terminar del secolo tornò a rivivere il buon gusto, e  

tornarono a destarsi l’antiche idee. Continua però al giorno 

d’oggi talmente il fiorir dell’arte, che non ha la città nostra 

per questo conto da invidiar nessun’altro qualunque sia, e 

ben ne fanno fede le commissioni che da varie parti tutto dì 

vi giungono.


 [Towards the end of the century the good taste and the ancient ideas came back to life. Nowadays art keeps flourishing in such a way, that our city doesn't have to envy anything to anyone, and the commissions that arrive from all over well testify that.]1




Verona: Giuseppe's youth and his musical education

Chapter 1 - Biography