Luigi Tarisio

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This page refers to the violin dealer and collector. For the online string instrument auction house, see Tarisio Auctions.

Luigi Tarisio (c. 1790 – October 1854) was an Italian violin dealer and collector.

He was born at Fontaneto d'Agogna, near Novara, Piedmont, of humble parents and is said to have trained as a carpenter, playing violin as a hobby. He developed an interest in violins themselves, and as a connoisseur with a natural talent for business he began to acquire and resell some of the many fine instruments that were lying unused in the towns and villages of northern Italy. His first journey to Paris, in 1827, was evidently profitable for him and for the dealers there, who gave him every encouragement. In the same year he made his greatest coup, acquiring a number of violins from Count Cozio of Salabue, including a 1716 Stradivari in unused condition. This violin was Tarisio's treasure, and as he spoke of it on every visit to Paris but never actually brought it with him; it came to be known as the 'Messiah'.

Tarisio searched indefatigably for violins and had a true love of them. The novelist Charles Reade, who knew Tarisio, wrote of him: 'The man's whole soul was in fiddles. He was a great dealer, but a greater amateur, for he had gems by him no money would buy'. There was an insatiable demand in northern Europe for what nobody wanted or appreciated in the south, and the absence of much competition gave him unique opportunities. By bringing his stock to Paris, the only place where the art of restoration was at all advanced, he rescued many great instruments for posterity.

After his death it was the turn of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, the leading Parisian dealer, to make the greatest purchase of his life. At a small farm near Fontaneto, where Tarisio's relatives lived, were the six finest violins of the collection, including the celebrated 'Messiah'; and in a dingy attic in Milan, where Tarisio's body has been found, were no fewer than 24 Stradivaris and 120 other Italian masterpieces.


In 1775 Paolo contracted to sell these instruments [the 10 remaining from his father's workshop] and other things from his father's shop to Count Cozio di Salabue, one of the most important collectors in history; and although Paolo died before the transaction was concluded, Salabue acquired the instruments. Salabue kept the 'Messiah' until 1827, when he sold it to Luigi Tarisio, a fascinating character who, from small beginnings, built up an important business dealing in violins. However, Tarisio could not bear to part with this instrument. Instead, he made it a favorite topic of conversation, and intrigued dealers on his visits to Paris with accounts of this marvelous 'Salabue' violin, as it was then called, taking care, however, never to bring it with him. One day Tarisio was discoursing to Vuillaume on the merits of this unknown and marvelous instrument, when the violinist Delphin Alard, who was present, exclaimed: 'Then your violin is like the Messiah: one always expects him but he never appears' ('Ah, ça, votre violon est donc comme le Messie; on l'attend toujours, et il ne parait jamais'). Thus the violin was baptized with the name by which it is still known.

Tarisio never parted with the violin and not until his death in 1854 had anyone outside Italy seen it. In 1855, Vuillaume was able to acquire it, and it remained with him, also until his death. Vuillaume guarded the 'Messiah' jealously, keeping it in a glass case and allowing no one to examine it. However, he did allow it to be shown at the 1872 Exhibition of Instruments in the South Kensington Museum, and this was its first appearance in England. After Vuillaume's death in 1875, the violin became the property of his two daughters and then of his son-in-law, the violinist Alard. After Alard's death in 1888, his heirs sold the 'Messiah' in 1890 to W.E. Hill and Sons on behalf of a Mr. R. Crawford of Edinburgh for 2,600 British pounds, at that time the largest sum ever paid for a violin.

David D. Boyden, London 1969



  • The Violin Hunter: The Life Story of Luigi Tarisio the Great Collector of Violins by William Alexander Silverman


  1. ^ The Hill Collection of Musical Instruments, David D. Boyden, Oxford University Press, London, 1969
  • Millant, Roger (1972). J. B. Vuillaume: Sa Vie et son Oeuvre (in French). London: W.E. Hill. OCLC 865746. 
  • Tarisio and ‘Le Messie’ : Antoine Vidal, Bowed Instruments (Vol. I)
  • W.E. Hill & Sons, Antonio Stradivari: His Life & Work, monograph on the “Salabue” Strad and finally Farga, Violins & Violinists.
  • The Hill Collection of Musical Instruments, David D. Boyden, Oxford University Press, London, 1969
  • Antonio Stradivari – Henley
  • 1690 &1716 Tuscan & Le Messie – Hill
  • Violin Iconography of Antonio Stradivari - Hebert K. Goodkind
  • How Many Strads – E. Doring
  • Antonio Stradivari - Charles Beare
  • Italian Violin Makers – Walter Henley
  • Millant, Roger (1972). J. B. Vuillaume: Sa Vie et son Oeuvre (in French). London: W.E. Hill. OCLC 865746. 
  • "Violins, Vuillaume - A Great French Violin Maker of the 19th century". The Multimedia Encyclopedia. 1999. [not specific enough to verify]
  • Les Luthiers Parisiens aux XIX et XX siecles Tom 3 "Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume et sa famille : Nicolas, Nicolas-François et Sébastien" by Sylvette Milliot published by Edition les Amis des la Musique 2006
  • Jost Thöne: J.B.Vuillaume, Bildband mit originalgrossen Abbildungen, Bocholt 1998.
  • Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume - Violins and Violinists Series of Violin Makers published by William Lewis and Son
  • Les Trésors de la Lutherie Française du XIXe siècle", Paris c 1992