Born in 1637, Giovanni Grancino is the earliest active violin maker in Milan that can be properly tracked, therefore considered the founder of the Milanese classical school of Violin Making and one of its finest representatives. The violin-making school of Milan had a late start in comparison with other important centers, like Brescia and Cremona, where multiple important workshops were already well established at the time, such as Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri.
It is probable that Giovanni was born into a family of Luthiers, but there is no material evidence that can support this hypothesis, though it would solve the problem of his unlikely self-learning. The earliest instrument ascribed to Giovanni Grancino exhibits exquisite and elevated handcrafting skills. Though, if authentic, this Violetta's label indicates that the instrument was constructed when Grancino was only in his 20s, supporting the idea that he had access to first-hand guidance.
Part of his earlier instruments are ascribed as collaborations between him and his brother Francesco, but there is not sufficient evidence to define what exactly was Francesco's participation in the making. His father, Andrea Grancino, appears to be mentioned by the Cozio of Salabue in one of his manuscripts as a fine maker who would have made a few great instruments. Unfortunately, no instruments were ever recorded bearing Andrea's original label or even the grandfather, Paolo.
For long, it was assumed that Grancino learned the craft under the guidance of the Amati family in Cremona, but deeper research indicates that the Amatisè approach adopted in his instruments in the 1700s might be a response to commercial demand, other than an inherited style. The early production from the 1660s to the mid-1670s, attributed to the Grancino Brothers, consists almost exclusively of Violas, and its style and constructive characteristics point out that their primary instruction and influences were not those from the Cremonese tradition.
Giovanni Grancino's style only got closer to the standards of the Amati Family from 1680 on, when he produced a fine number of violins and cellos of higher quality and refinement, yet keeping a strong personal distinctive character. This influence got much deeper after the 1700s when it was possible to identify he had closer access to the finest Cremonese instruments and guidance. Grancino's production increased consistently during this period, as he was already coworking with his son and pupil Giovanni Battista II. A great part of his output started showing stylistic features, such as models, arching, and edging, similar to those of the Amati family.
One theory that provides a reasonable explanation for how Grancino accessed the guidance and knowledge of the Cremonese makers is the arrival of Bartolomeo Pasta in Milan in 1673, who appears as a resident at the Amati Workshop in Cremona 1660's administrative recordings. After moving to Milan, Pasta also established his workshop at Contrada Larga, the same street where the Grancino Family lived and worked, as so as many of the following names of the Milanese Violin-making history.
The establishment of Giovanni Battista Grancino as the most important violin maker in Milan at the time is due to the high level of his craftsmanship when compared to those of the competitors who came a few years later. But it is undeniable that the Grancino family was an important and well-connected core of the Milanese 17th-century society. They were well located in one of the city's most important sites, equally distant from Arch-Bishop's palace and Milan's Cathedral, where Giovanni's God-Father, Michelangelo Grancino, was the music director, and therefore one of the most influential musicians in town.
Grancino died in 1709 while waiting for the trial of his son, Giovanni Battista, for the accusation of murder of a colleague violin-maker, Antonio Maria Lavazza, who also lived and worked in Contrada Larga in Milan. Records indicate that the disagreements between the makers would have started a few years earlier and culminated in consecutive fights and assassination attempts on both sides, but the precise storyline of the menaces and combats is not worth the details.