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Nicola Amati was the fourth son of Girolamo Amati and the grandson of Andrea Amati, the founder of the Amati Family of violin makers. Of all the Amati Family violins, those of Nicola are often considered most suitable for modern playing. As a young man his instruments closely followed the concepts of his father's, with a relatively small model and high arching rising nearly to a ridge in the centre of both the front and back. Starting in 1630 he gradually began to show signs of originality, which by 1640 were expressed in what is now known as the 'Grand Amati' pattern. Well curved, long-cornered, and strongly and cleanly purfled, these instruments represent perhaps the height of elegance in violinmaking, and were characterized by mathematically derived outlines and transparent amber-colored varnish.
Nicola Amati also made important contributions to the world of violin making not just by what he made, but by whom he taught. Initially having no sons to carry on the family business as was traditional at the time, Nicola Amati was one of the first to take apprentices from outside his family into his workshop. Andrea Guarneri, who eventually founded the Guarneri Family of violin makers, was a pupil of Nicola. Also at least one Antonio Stradivari label, dated 1666, reads, "Alumnus Nicolais Amati" - student of Nicolò Amati. but it has always been controversial whether he was an actual apprentice of Nicola Amati or merely considered himself a student and admirer of his work. Other documented pupils of Nicola include Matthias Klotz, Jacob Railich, Bartolomeo Pasta, Bartolomeo Cristofori, Giacomo Gennaro, and Giovanni Battista Rogeri. Nicolò’s son, Hieronymus II (often referred to in English as Girolamo) (1649–1740), was the last of his line to achieve distinction.
The Latin forms of the first names, Andreas, Antonius, Hieronymus, and Nicolaus, were generally used on the violin labels, and the family name was sometimes Latinized as Amatus.
Violinists who play Nicola Amati violins include Thomas Bowes.