A Timeline history of the Violin Bow - from c. 1600 - 1800

... the sources in detail ...


Prinner, Johann Jacob (1624 - 1694)
Musicalischer Schlissel (Salzburg, 1677)

Prinner's Musicalischer Schlissel has achieved a certain notoriety in the 'chin-on' versus 'chin-off' polemic - as the sole 17th century advocate (and that in no uncertain terms) of using your chin to hold the violin to enable shifting. The whole is surely interesting, and Prinner is absolute in his expression of his opinions. Quite how significant it was at the time is open to doubt - the treatise survives only in a single manuscript. The section on violin playing is only a small part of the whole - and his fairly disrespectful dismissal of what he dislikes does not engender trust. That said, greater minds than mine give his opinion much weight. He says about the bow:

Den geigenbogen aber in der rechten handt zu führen sein widerumb unterschidliche manieren, weillen ich sonderbahr in wälschland die meisten gesehen, so den Bogen nur zwischen den daumen und ander finger also mit zweÿen allein beÿ dem holz in der mitten deß bogenß also gleichsamb in ebenen gewicht gefast and darmit gestrichen, welche weiß und manier die rechten khünstler nicht approbiren, sonder sgaen, daß man den bogen nahe beÿ dem untersazl mit den Daumen an den haaren und die and(er)e finger auf daß holz legen solle, damit man mit den daum zuzeitten daß haar deß bogenß anstrekhen und durch einen drukh den bogen die krhafft geben khönne, darmit einen stätten langen strich führen, und die geschwindigkheit der fuselen mit der bulß, und nicht mit den ganzen arm wüettendt sich selbst abmatten solle.
On the other hand, the violin bow is drawn with the right hand, but in different ways I have seen specially in Italy that most hold the bow just between the thumb and one finger, that is, only with two, on the wood, in the middle of the bow, where it’s more or less in balance, and bowed with that such that most true artists don’t approve, but rather say that one should hold the bow nearer the frog, with the thumb on the hair and to lay the other fingers on the wood, so that one can tension the hair of the bow with the thumb, and with pressure one can give the bow power/strength, with which to draw a steady long stroke, and the speed of the fast notes with the wrist, and not wildly with the whole arm, to make oneself tired
It's clear (as one can see from the various pictures in the timeline) that the two bow holds Prinner discusses (and Muffat, Corrette etc subsequently) are clearly both in use - the thumb-on-stick and thumb-on-hair versions, and not specifically restricted in time or location. Prinner is explicit here about the thumb being placed on the hair (not on the frog), and used to tension the hair. The iconographical evidence is divided - some on the frog, some on the hair. Playford (1664) has the thumb "stay'd upon the hair at the nut", Corrette (1738) is explicit that the thumb should be on the frog - both in words and diagram. I have yet to play on a bow where I can significantly control the hair tension with my thumb - rather my experience to date is primarily a decrease of stability.