The Baroque period was a grand and dramatic time for the arts. It transended all culture from architecture to drama to music. The church was the inspiration and the financier for this cultural epoch which started about 1600 and ran to about 1850.
With this new demand for all things cultural came the creation of new instruments. One of these creations was the violin. However, it was different in design than the ones we see now.
Most obvious is that the neck was shorter by 1 to 2 centimeters. This of course resulted in a shorter fingerboard and a more acute angle on the bridge. The base bar was smaller and the bridge was shaped differently. This meant that the violin was held and played much differently than modern violins. The best example is that there is no chin rest on a Baroque violin as they had not been invented yet. Also the bow had to be much different as well. It was straighter or even bowed outward under pressure.
What is interesting about all of this is that most of the violins made in this period have been converted to modern standards. Any violin that has survived since the middle of the 17th century has been in the luthiery shop many times and for almost all the conversion was made a long time ago. What is even more interesting is that there is a movement to take them back to the shop and refit them to their original dimensions for the "authentic" look and sound.
The lineage of violins can be traced to instruments of the dark ages. The rebec was a lute that was set under the chin and played with a bow. It was used by poets and bards to lend music to their story telling. The other lineage was the lira da Braccio from the dark ages which evolved into the Viola da Braccio in the Renaissance period. This was much more violin like but the Italian families of Cremona crystallized the form that we now know as violins. They created what is known as Baroque Violins.