The beautiful mythical lady on the boat

The "unknown"  mandolin maker!

Who is the mythical lady who commands a boat in full sail, at the latest mandolino-bouzouko design?
Who is her luthier and her creator?

Last week, trying to answer these questions, I started a small research on the internet and I stumbled upon  some very interesting information regarding this very unique sound-hole design.
I remembered that I had seen in the past the same unique sound-hole design carried on other mandolin instruments, but I could not recall where and who was their luthier.

The mandolin which Giannis Tsoulogiannis will restore and convert to a mandolino-bouzouko, is an unlabeled  instrument. All the aesthetic elements which the mandolin carries, makes me believe that its origin is Italy during the late 19th or beginning of the 20th c.

1. From a very quick research I found the same design to be mentioned by a  Mandolincafe forum member , Graham McDonald, at the following post with a photo

"Third is a 16-string with the same style of head (but even bigger) which I remember as having a Maltese shop label and what I think is the most wonderful "woman in a boat" scratch-plate. I am looking for a good picture of one of these scratch-plates for the book."

His post is a little confusing as he is mentioning a workshop from Malta but without revealing any further information regarding the luthier.

2. Then, another information comes from a mandolin on sale by a musical instrument collector in UK.

"A bowl backed mandolin, probably Italian early 20th c, with mother-of-pearl/pearloid depiction of a woman in a boat around the sound hole, and wooden feather inlay around the edge."

3.Yet another unlabeled one appears from another conversation in Mandolincafe forum

"Not sure if this is a good instrument but the sound-hole is sort of clever tho it looks like she is taking a bath in the boat and the boat is sailing on a bathmat."

4. The first important hint comes from an Australian luthier's Forum question, posted by the luthier Mark G

"A client asked if I could fix a little old mandolin he found in an antique store. It's an old Italian bowl back made in Sicily"
So the creator of this design mandolins is a Sicilian luthier. But who?

5.  The answer to my question comes by information collected from another post in Mandolincafe forum .

"This one I found on a site for sale. Kind of weird.
Is it something special or just some "folk art"?
"From the label it looks like it is a Puglisi Reale, from Catania."
6. Discovering finally luthier's  name , doesn't take much time before I find another post regarding this unique mandolin instruments .This one is from a sale in Italy
7. Even knowing finally the luthier, I am still researching for the year these instruments approximately have been made.
The information comes from an auction in UK at Bonhams Auction House. At the beginning the research  is a dead end ,as the Bonhams page carries a photo only from the back of the mandolin instrument, stating :

"A Mandolin by G. Puglisi-Reale & Figli, Catania, circa 1900"
But the details on their description solves the mystery of the soundboard decoration

"A Mandolin by G. Puglisi-Reale & Figli, Catania, circa 1900
Labelled internally and branded on table the sound-hole elaborately shaped around a mother of pearl inset of a boat at sea under full sail commanded by a beautiful, mythic lady, the pear-shaped back of rosewood."

8. Another information confirming that this unique sound-hole shape/decoration is usually creation by G. Puglisi-Reale , comes from a theses by Sapienza – Università di Roma, ( Dottorato di ricerca in Storia e Analisi delle Culture Musicali 21° ciclo / LA CATALOGAZIONE DEI MANDOLINI ) and the following photo stating :

" Mandolino Catanese di G. Puglisi Reale, Catania 1900 ca (coll. priv.)
Mandolin from Sicily Catania by G. Puglisi Reale, Catania 1900 circa (private collection)"

Does that mean, that the latest unlabeled mandolin, at Giannis Tsoulogiannis hands, is a creation by the famous G. Puglisi-Reale and Figli, Catania, circa 1900 ?

9. With some further intense research I was able to discover another luthier from Catania using the same sound-hole decoration. Rosario Mazzullo, Catania.
10. At the same website, another luthier or retailer (as the author of the post is wondering) appears with same decoration: Cappellani

We can only assume that this is a G. Puglisi-Reale and  Figli, or a Rosario Mazullo instrument, but we can undoubtedly  state that this instrument carries one of  the most clean, elaborated and highly crafted decoration found on other  mandolin with same sound-hole design .


Mr . Graham McDonald , author of the Mandolin Project  book, sent me the following feedback, regarding mandolins with the woman on the boat decoration theme:

I think it is entirely possible that most of these scratchplates were used on instruments by Puglisi, who was one of the larger manufacturers in Sicily.

I suspect that parts like the scratchplates, or tuners or tailpiece were bought from local suppliers who just made those for any manufacturer who wanted to use them. The same scratchplate will often be used on mandolins from several Neapolitan makers around that period. Exact dating is very difficult. Sometime between 1890 and 1914 almost certainly, but anything else would be a guess. 

The 16-string from Malta had the label of a music retailer rather than a workshop and could just have easily been made by Puglisi. Only a week after my book went to the printers I was contacted by a mandolin player in Germany who also has one and offered my a photo.

It will be interesting to see how this mandolin  instrument sounds as a bouzouki



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