Highest auction price achieved
£ 9808000.00

By Cecie Stainer

Son of Alessandro Stradivari and Anna Moroni. There is no definite record of his birth, but in a violin with a genuine label as follows . " Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis faciebat anno 1732 " was added in Stradivari's handwriting below " de anni 89 " ; this was at first wrongly read as " de anni 82 " Other dated instruments are now known which prove that Stradivari was born in 1644. Fetis's statement that Stradivari was born in 1644 was based on the report of a violin said to be dated 1736, and to be inscribed "anno aetatisga," which was formerly in the possession of Count Cozio di Salabue. Stradivari died Dec, 1737, and was buried Dec. 19, 1737, in the Cathedral of San Domenico, Cremona, which has since been pulled down. He was descended from a very ancient Cremona family, whose name, at that time spelt " Stradiverdi," appears in records as far back as 1213. While still very young he became a pupil of Nicola Amati, and was probably with him till 1667. When Amati died, all his tools, patterns, and models passed into Stradivari's possession. His earlier instruments bear labels of Nicola Amati, and may be recognised by the beautiful scroll or by the characteristic sound-holes. About 1666 he used a label with “Nicolai Amati alumnus" on it. Up to 1690 the violins signed with his name are very similar in pattern to Amati's ordinary full-sized instruments, and are of high model compared to those he made later; the wood is generally plain, the purfling very narrow, the oil varnish, a more or less pronounced yellow colour, but otherwise very similar to that used by Amati, is of soft and penetrating quality, and permeates the wood to some depth beneath the surface ; these instruments are known as'' Stradivarius amatise." He steadily improved in his work; the model becomes flatter, the sound-holes more graceful, the scroll more striking and original, the purfling slightly wider than before ; the varnish varies in colour from rich golden, very soft and transparent, to a light red, equally fine. This thicker and more lustrous red varnish was what he subsequently used exclusively. In 1690 he began to make the violins known as '' long Strads''; they are quite unlike N. Amati's work; measurements by experts have conclusively proved that these instruments are quite a quarter of an inch longer than his usual pattern. These "long Strads" were inspired by Maggini; in length of body and length of stop they are practically the same as Maggini's violins in his latest and finest period. The modelling of the back and belly, the shorter corners, the bolder and more open sound-holes all recall Maggini's work. The tone of remarkable power—has much of the Maggini quality. Stradivari also made some narrow violins, dated after 1690, which, though not so in reality, also appear to be of extra length, owing to their narrow pattern, this narrowness is particularly noticeable in the middle of the instrument between the sound-holes. The work is most carefully finished, everything proportioned to the modification of form. The tone is brilliant and powerful; the varnish is sometimes a beautiful amber colour, sometimes a transparent pale red. These instruments are not so uncommon as the "long Strads," which he ceased making in 1700, probably because of their length causing them to be difficult to play. The period of his finest work began in 1700, which culminated in what was practically perfection in 1714; the thicknesses of the wood and the lines of the pattern are all determined with scientific accuracy ; the varnish, in brilliancy of colouring and in delicacy and transparency of quality, has never since been equalled; the tone is splendid, invariably bright, sweet, full, and equal. The wood is chosen with the greatest care, and is sound and sonorous, the pine being of the best quality from Switzerland and the Trentino; the willow (of which the blocks and linings are made) taken from the banks of the Po, near Cremona. The arching rises in gentle and gradual curves, the purfling is executed with wonderful precision ; the sound-holes show a master's hand and remain a model for all ; the scroll, of severe character, is exquisitely carved ; the whole of the work (including that of the interior) shows the most beautiful finish in the smallest details. A splendid specimen of this period of work is the so-called " Messiah" violin, dated 1716, which was bought for £1,000 by Alard, the distinguished violinist, and on his death (1888) was sold by Messrs. Hill on behalf of the heirs for £2,000. The workmanship is perfection ; the arching of the back and belly exquisitely proportioned ; the wood of the back beautifully and regularly figured the tone strong, mellow, and delicate; the glowing ruddy varnish wonderfully beautiful, both in colour and quality the sound-holes most perfectly cut; the neck is the original one, but has been lengthened by a piece added at its junction with the upper block of the body ; the scroll is very graceful; the curves and outlines extremely beautiful. The letters " P. S." are very distinct on the peg-box end of the neck ; they are sometimes found on the violin which still have the original neck; they were the initials of Paolo, his youngest son, a cloth merchant by trade. There is a violin, also made in 1716, in the Istituto Musicale of Florence, with the label : " Antonius Stradivanus Cremonensis faciebat, anno 1716." A violin, dated 1714, called the " Dolphin," owing to the extraordinary richness and variety of tints in the varnish, is made of splendid wood, and is of perfect workmanship. It formerly belonged to Alard, later passing into the hands of Adams for £800. The prices given for Stradivari violins have risen in a most extraordinary way ; Stradivari himself sold them for £4, but by the end of the 18th century they were selling for £15 or £16 ; a little before 1824 Lupot sold a violin for £100, which was considered a large sum; in 1875 a violin, dated 1714, sold for £300, and, after 1881, fine violins were sold for £1,000 or more— in one case for double that sum. The violin, known, because of its perfect state of preservation, as "The Maiden" (La Pucelle), dated 1709, fetched £885 at a sale in Paris, Feb. 14, 1878 ; it was of beautiful workmanship, the sound-holes exquisitely cut, and the scroll strong in character. A most perfect specimen of the earlier work of Stradivari was exhibited at South Kensington in 1885; it was made in 1679 and was bought by Sir Samuel Hellier, of Womborne, Staffordshire, for £40 from the maker himself about 1734 , it is of large size, and is one of the inlaid violins, of which there are only about twelve in existence. Another inlaid violin is dated 1687 and was originally made for the King of Spain. Another violin dated 1690, which was originally sold for £25, next changed hands for £240, then for £1,000. Violins sold at sales do not, as a rule, fetch such high prices ; one was sold at Christie's for £290 ; that was in 1872, and it is now valued at £1,000. The " Ames " Strad , a beautiful violin, in excellent preservation, was sold at Puttick and Simpson's in 1893 for £860 ; but this was a record auction-room price. Stradivari only made a few violas, they are of a large pattern, and the quality of their tone is most rich, penetrating, and sympathetic. A very fine viola dated 1723 was in the Janze Collection ; one of the most beautiful known—the Viola Medicea dated 1691, is in the Istituto Musicale of Florence , it is of large size, and is interesting as showing that, at the time he made it, Stradivari was not yet experienced enough to make the thickness of the upper plate sufficient in proportion to the size of the instrument. When the viola was recently taken to pieces it was found that Stradivari himself had strengthened (doubled with new wood) the parts originally too much thinned ; that only Stradivari himself had touched the work was proved by his inscribing it with the words " Corretto da me Antonio Stradivari. ' One viola is mentioned as having the back made of poplar ; it had a most beautiful tone and showed most delicately finished work. Few of his violoncellos are in existence; they were made on two patterns, one large one small ; the large instruments are now as scarce as the large violas , they have an enormously powerful tone, but it is perhaps more difficult for performers to play on them owing to their size. One of these large violoncellos was in the possession of Professor Servais, of the Brussels Conservatoire ; the tone was of silvery sweetness, combined with extraordinary power A magnificent instrument dated 1720, which belonged to Signor Piatti, the great violoncellist, was known as the " red " 'cello, owing to the very rich colour of its varnish. The immense superiority of Stradivari's violoncellos to all others owing to the excellent choice of wood, the correctness of the thicknesses, and the accurate proportions of the whole instrument, which results in a tone unequalled for fulness, brilliancy, and power, causes them to fetch extraordinarily high prices, if, by any chance, one comes into the market. The smaller violoncellos are too narrow; in proportion to the length, violoncellos require a greater height in the sides than violins do ; Stradivari omitted to take this into account, and thus sometimes made instruments which have a thin quality of tone, which is only to be improved by increasing the height of the sides. A very beautiful specimen of this small pattern formerly belonged to Duport, then to Franchomme, who sold it for £1,600. One of the finest known, formerly belonging to Alexandre Batta, of Paris, who paid £440 for it, was made in 1714, and is in exceptionally good preservation, without a crack, and with no trace of any repairs it was bought by Messrs. Hill in 1893 for £3,200! This same firm of violin makers also had one dated 1711, which they priced at £2,800. A violoncello in most perfect preservation, dated 1689, was bought by Professor Delsart, of the Paris Conservatoire, on Feb. 3, 1887, at a sale for £800 ; it is especially remarkable for the beauty of its wood; its equal is perhaps only to be found in the violoncello, dated 1691, which is in the Istituto Musicale of Florence; it is of very large size, and the workmanship is absolutely perfect. A great many of the violoncellos dated between 1698 and 1709 have the backs made of poplar-wood. A very beautiful violoncello which was in Madrid, dated 1725, was more arched than that of Franchomme; the wood was pine of excellent quality, the sides of finely figured wood ; the brilliant red varnish, on an amber golden ground, was very delicate and transparent; the whole instrument was in perfect preservation. Stradivari's double-basses are rare ; Dragonetti had one ; Count Ludovico Melzi had another, a very fine specimen ; it was on a broad pattern, very much arched ; the lower corners of the middle bouts are rounded off, apparently to avoid injury. Two things strike one about the work of Stradivari—the extraordinary number of instruments that he made and their great excellence; it is said that there are no less than a thousand of his violins, violas, and violoncellos; he lived to a great age, and worked incessantly all his life. In his time, viols were still being used in orchestras; he made many with six strings and with seven strings, also five-stringed viols with flat back, high sides, and arched bellies. Viols, bass-viols, violas da gamba are known with the backs made of poplar-wood. A viola d'amore, with the usual six gut strings and six wire strings, is dated 1716. A mandoline, dated 1700, which formerly belonged to J. B. Vuillaume, was remarkable for the finish of the workmanship and the beauty of the varnish ; the head was most delicately carved. A harp is also known made by him. A guitar inscribed on the back of the peg-box, "Ants Stradivarius Cremonens F. 1680," was supposed to be the only one made by him ; but the Paris Conservatoire claims to have another in the Collection there. In the same Collection is a beautiful fragment of the head of a viola da gamba and also a kit of large size, dated 1717, signed by Stradivari, which has a graceful scroll, the sound-holes excellently cut and varnish of wonderfully delicate and brilliant quality. A viola da gamba, "alia gobba" (i.e., hunchbacked), made in 1684 for Countess Cristina Visconti, had the violoncello scroll and sound-holes; double-basses had long been made with violoncello sound-holes, but Stradivari was probably the first maker to effect this improvement in the viola da gamba. It is interesting to notice how, even in his lifetime, Stradivari's instruments travelled all over the world, his reputation was so great on Sept. 8, 1682, Michele Monzi, a banker in Venice, sent him an order for a set of violins, tenors, and violoncellos; these instruments were afterwards sent as a present to James II. of England. In 1687 he made a set of instruments for the Spanish Court, inlaid with ivory purfling, and with beautiful scroll-work running round the sides and head. Some of these fine instruments, richly ornamented with small figures, flowers, fruit, arabesques, inlaid in ebony or ivory, executed with the greatest skill, are still in existence, as well as the tools which he used and the original tracings of his designs. In 1690 he finished making a "concerto"—viz., two violins, one small and one large tenor, and one violoncello, for the Grand Duke of Tuscany. One of the tenors is in Florence and is inscribed on the interior of the upper plate, "Prima 20 ottobre 1690 per S. A. da Fiorenza." In 1707 he made six violins, two tenors, and one violoncello for the private orchestra of Archduke Charles of Austria. In 1715 he made twelve violins for the private orchestra of the King of Poland (Elector of Saxony), The instruments, relatively few in number, made by Stradivari between 1730-37 vary a good deal in character; some are very fine and of beautifully finished work, but others do not attain the same perfection; they are more arched, resulting in a less brilliant tone, the delicacy and finish of the work has changed, the scroll is heavier, the varnish is sometimes a brown colour, like that used by his sons for their instruments ; there is no doubt that, after his death, much of his unfinished work was completed by his sons or by his pupil, Carlo Bergonzi, labels being used with Stradivari's name on them. Instruments that were made simply under his direction are inscribed ' sub disciplina Stradiuarii," in very small type. Many of his pupils became celebrated makers, such as Carlo Bergonzi, Alessandro Gagliano, Lorenzo and Giambattista Guadagnini, &c. Stradivari had married, July 4, 1667, Francesca Ferraboschi (b, 1640, the widow of Giovanni Giacomo Capra) ; she died May 20, 1698. She had six children, of whom four were sons: Francesco, b. Feb. 6, 1670, d. six days later; Francesco, b. Feb. 1, 1671, he worked with his father and d. May 11, 1743; Alessandro, b. May 25, 1677, he became a priest and d. Jan. 26, 1732 ; Omobono, b. Nov. 14, 1679, he worked with his father and d. July 8, 1742. On June 3, 1680, Stradivari purchased from the Brothers Picenardi, for about ;£280, the house formerly known as 2, piazza San Domenico, now as 1 piazza Roma; it was there that all his famous work was done. He married his second wife on August 24, 1699, Antonia Zambelli (b. June 11, 1664, d. March 3, 1737), she had five children, of whom four were sons : Gio. Battista Giuseppe, b. Nov, 6, 1701, d. eight months later; Gio. Battista Martino, b. Nov. 11, 1703, d. Nov. 1,1727; Giuseppe, b. Oct. 27, 1704, became a priest and d. Nov. 29, 1781 ; Paolo, b. Jan. 26, 1708, d Oct. 19, 1776. Stradivari is described as a tall thin man, incessantly working, in his white leather apron and his white cap ; he made a great deal of money, for in his time "ricco come Stradivari" (rich as Stradivari) was quite a proverb in Cremona.

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Price History

Type Title Sold Price
Violin 35.7 cm Cremona, 1721 The 'Lady Blunt', with Provenance & Lit. Wed 1st June 11 £ 9808000.00
Violin 35.5 cm Cremona, 1697 'The Molitor' Fri 1st October 10 £ 2253181.00
Violin 35.3 cm Cremona, 1700 c. "The Penny", with Provenance Tue 1st April 08 £ 638192.00
Violin 35.7 cm Cremona, 1729 'The Solomon, ex-Lambert' Sun 1st April 07 £ 1378753.00
Violin 35.7 cm Cremona, 1720 c. Sun 1st October 06 £ 771794.00
Violin 35.5 cm Cremona, 1705 "The Hammer" Mon 1st May 06 £ 1883204.00
Violin 1700-10 c. 'Sammons' Omobono, Provenance & Lit. Tue 1st November 05 £ 211308.00
Violin Cremona, 1699 'Lady Tennant' with Provenance & Lit. Fri 1st April 05 £ 1061041.00
Violin 1716 Sat 1st November 03 £ 767200.00
Violin 1687 Thu 1st May 03 £ 607680.00
Violin 1726 Fri 1st November 02 £ 608750.00
Violin 1679 [Attributed to] Fri 1st November 02 £ 254500.00
Violin 1712 Thu 1st November 01 £ 720000.00
Violin 1680 (scroll replaced) Fri 1st June 01 £ 278500.00
Violin 1682 Thu 1st March 01 £ 388500.00
Violin 1700 'Taft' Mon 1st May 00 £ 861039.00
Cello 1692 Mon 1st March 99 £ 551500.00
Violin 1698 'Joachim' Sun 1st November 98 £ 529500.00
Violin 1727 'Kreutzer' Wed 1st April 98 £ 947500.00
Violin 1728 Sat 1st March 97 £ 128000.00
Violin 1728 'Stuart' Sun 1st October 95 £ 139000.00
Violin 1667 'Jenkins' Thu 1st June 95 £ 375500.00
Violin 1711 'Vogelweith' Wed 1st March 95 £ 386500.00
Cello (Back, ribs, scroll by "John Lott") Thu 1st December 94 £ 297756.00
Violin 1696 'Steinthal' Tue 1st November 94 £ 309500.00
Violin 1686 Mon 1st November 93 £ 363000.00
Cello 1690 c. 'Bonjour' Sun 1st March 92 £ 605000.00
Violin 1712 'Schreiber' Sun 1st March 92 £ 352000.00
Violin 1720 'Mendelsohn' Thu 1st November 90 £ 902000.00
Violin 1697 'Molitor' Wed 1st March 89 £ 209000.00
Violin 1710 'Fuchs' Wed 1st March 89 £ 156200.00
Cello 1698 c. 'Cholmndely' Wed 1st June 88 £ 682000.00
Violin 1729 'Innes' Wed 1st June 88 £ 214500.00
Violin 1700 c. (composite) Wed 1st June 88 £ 38500.00
Violin 1709 'Hall' Tue 1st March 88 £ 444333.00
Violin 1711 'Vogelweith' Sun 1st November 87 £ 165000.00
Violin 1692 'Falmouth' Mon 1st June 87 £ 192500.00
Violin 1734 'Kulenkampf' Wed 1st April 87 £ 396000.00
Violin 1690 'Stephens' Wed 1st April 87 £ 154000.00
Violin 1716 'Colossus' Wed 1st April 87 £ 440000.00
Cello 1695 'Bonnett' Sat 1st November 86 £ 99000.00
Violin 1717 'Piatti' Sat 1st March 86 £ 170500.00
Violin 1723 c. ' Falk' Mon 1st April 85 £ 286000.00
Violin 1707 'Cathedrale' Thu 1st November 84 £ 396000.00
Violin 1686 'Rosenheim' Thu 1st November 84 £ 165000.00
Violin 1729-30 'Wechsberg' Thu 1st November 84 £ 167400.00
Violin 1720 (composite) Thu 1st November 84 £ 29160.00
Violin 1690 'Auer' Mon 1st October 84 £ 246400.00
Violin 1712 'Hrimaly' Fri 1st June 84 £ 122222.00
Violin 1684 ['Hill' history] Fri 1st June 84 £ 91800.00
Cello 1690 c. 'Bonjour' Sun 1st April 84 £ 275000.00
Violin 1683 'Bucher' Sun 1st April 84 £ 101200.00
Violin 1702 'Lyall' Sun 1st January 84 £ 102667.00
Cello 1684 ' Barjansky' Wed 1st June 83 £ 192500.00
Violin 1724 'Rawark' Wed 1st June 83 £ 110000.00
Violin 1730 'Mackenzie' Wed 1st June 83 £ 178571.00
Violin 1668 [no History] Fri 1st April 83 £ 58300.00
Violin 26.7 cm 1720 Fri 1st April 83 £ 16500.00
Violin 1692 'Falmouth' Tue 1st June 82 £ 102600.00
Violin 1664 [Labeled] Mon 1st February 82 £ 14865.00
Violin 1695 Long Model Thu 1st May 80 £ 68200.00
Violin 1735 'Elman' Sat 1st March 80 £ 97778.00
Violin 35.7 cm Known as "The Baldiani" with Lit. & Provanence [Ascribed to] Wed 1st October 08 £ 198685.00

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