Music: The Liutai

The violin is a thin, hollow wooden box with a long neck, a body shaped like a figure eight, and a capacity for more subtlety of expression than any other orchestral instrument. It was perfected in Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries by craftsmen of the Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri families. Others have been trying to duplicate their masterpieces of workmanship ever since.

Last week in Genoa some 2,000 visitors passed through the austere Villa Doria, examining and occasionally touching 189 graceful and lustrous stringed instruments, including one cello, 16 violas, 171 violins. The oldest was a small, ornamented Gasparo da...

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