Antonio Stradivari

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"Stradivari" redirects here. For the instruments bearing his name, see Stradivarius. For the 1988 film, see Stradivari (film).
A romanticized print of Antonio Stradivari examining an instrument. No authentic portrait has been discovered.

Antonio Stradivari (Italian pronunciation: [anˈtɔːnjo stradiˈvaːri]; 1644 – 18 December 1737) was an Italian luthier and a crafter of string instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars, violas, and harps. Stradivari is generally considered the most significant and greatest artisan in this field. The Latinized form of his surname, Stradivarius, as well as the colloquial "Strad" are terms often used to refer to his instruments. The Hills Violin Shop estimate that Antonio produced 1,116 instruments, of which 960 were violins. It is also estimated that around 650 of these instruments survive,[1] including 450[2] to 512[3] violins.


Family background and early life[edit]

Panorama of Cremona, with the Torrazzo di Cremona prominent

Antonio Stradivari’s birthdate, presumably between 1644 and 1649, has been debated amongst historians due to the numerous inconsistencies in the evidence of the latter. The 1668 and 1678 censuses report him actually growing younger, a fact explained by the probable loss of statistics from 1647-49, when renewed belligerency between France’s Modenese and Spain’s Milanese proxies led to a flow of refugees that included Stradivari’s mother.

Stradivari's ancestry consisted of notable citizens of Cremona, dating back to at least the 12th or 13th century. The earliest mention of the family name, or a variation upon it, is in a land grant dating from 1188.[4] The origin of the name itself has several possible explanations; some sources say it is the plural of Stradivare, essentially meaning "toll-man" in Lombard, while others say that the form "de Strataverta" derives from Strada averta, which, in Cremonese dialect means "open road."[5]

Antonio's parents were Alessandro Stradivari, son of Giulio Cesare Stradivari, and Anna Moroni, daughter of Leonardo Moroni.[6] They married on 30 August 1622, and had at least three children between 1623 and 1628: Giuseppe Giulia Cesare, Carlo Felice, and Giovanni Battista. The baptismal records of the parish of S. Prospero then stop, and it is unknown whether they had any children from 1628 to 1644.[7] This blank in the records may be due to the family leaving Cremona in response to war, famine, and plague in the city from 1628 to 1630,[8] or the records may have been lost due to clerical reforms imposed by Joseph II of Austria in 1788.[9] The latter explanation is supported by the word Cremonensis (of Cremona) on many of Stradivari's labels, which suggests that he was born in the city instead of merely moving back there to work.[10] Antonio was born in 1644, a fact deducible from later violins.[11] However, there are no records or information available on his early childhood, and the first evidence of his presence in Cremona is the label of his oldest surviving violin from 1666.[12]

Stradivari likely began an apprenticeship with Nicolò Amati between the ages of 12 and 14,[13] although a minor debate surrounds this fact. One of the few pieces of evidence supporting this is the label of his 1666 violin, which reads, Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666.[14] However, Stradivari did not repeatedly put Amati's name on his labels, unlike many of his other students.[15] Stradivari's early violins actually bear less of a resemblance to those of Amati than his later instruments do.[11] M. Chanot-Chardon, a well-known French luthier, asserted that his father had a label of Stradivari's stating, "Made at the age of thirteen, in the workshop of Nicolò Amati". This label has never been found or confirmed.[14] Amati would also have been a logical choice for Antonio's parents, as he represented an old family of violin makers in Cremona, and was far superior to most other luthiers in Italy.[13]

An alternative theory is that Stradivari started out as a woodworker: the house he lived in from 1667 to 1680 was owned by Francesco Pescaroli, a woodcarver and inlayer. Stradivari may even have been employed to decorate some of Amati's instruments, without being a true apprentice. This theory is supported by some of Stradivari's later violins, which have elaborate decorations and purfling.[16]

Assuming that Stradivari was a student of Amati, he would have begun his apprenticeship in 1656–58 and produced his first decent instruments in 1660, at the age of 16. His first labels were printed from 1660 to 1665, which indicates that his work had sufficient quality to be offered directly to his patrons. However, he probably stayed in Amati's workshop until about 1684, using his master's reputation as a launching point for his career.[17]

First marriage[edit]

Antonio Stradivari's second house, at No. 2 Piazza San Domenico

Stradivari married his first wife, Francesca Ferraboschi, on 4 July 1667.[18] Francesca was the young widow of the burgher Giacomo Capra, with whom she had two children, and who had been shot by Francesca's brother on the Piazza Garibaldi (formerly the Piazza Santa Agata)by a crossbow. He was later exiled, though allowed to return to Cremona many years later.[19] After their marriage, Stradivari moved into a house known as the Casa del Pescatore, or the Casa Nuziale, in his wife's parish. A clue to how they would have met lies in the 1659 Easter census, which lists the Ferraboschi family four houses away from the Amati residence. The couple had a daughter, Giulia Maria, three to four months later.[20] They remained in the house until 1680, during which time they had four more children: Catterina, Francesco, Alessandro, and Omobono Stradivari, as well as an infant son who lived for only a week.[21] It is to be noted that an age difference of four to nine years was uncommon between wedded couples at the time.

Stradivari purchased a house now known as No. 1 Piazza Roma (formerly No. 2 Piazza San Domenico) around 1680 for the sum of 7000 lire, 2000 of which he paid at the time of the purchase.[20] The totality of the house was paid for by 1684. .[20] The residense was just doors away from those of several other violin making families of Cremona, including the Amatis and Guarneris.[22] Stradivari probably worked in the loft and attic, and he stayed in this house for the rest of his life.[23]

Stradivari's wife Francesca died on 20 May 1698, and received an elaborate funeral five days later.[24]

« On her death, Ferraboschi was honoured with a funeral and procession whose itemized bill includes the parish priest and a mass, fourteen additional priests, a choir boy, thirty-six Dominican fathers, sixteen Franciscan fathers, thirty-one fathers of Saint’Angelo, twenty-seven fathers of San Luca, twenty-one fathers of San Salvatore, nineteen fathers of San Francesco unspecified numbers of orphans and beggars “with hat,” and fees for administration and for sixteen torch-bearers, bells, draperies, and gravediggers.»[25]

Second marriage[edit]

Stradivari married his second wife, Antonia Maria Zambelli, on 24 August 1699. The only information known about her is that she was 35 at the time of the marriage. They had five children from 1700 to 1708—Francesca Maria, Giovanni Battista Giuseppe, Giovanni Battista Martino, Giuseppe Antonio, and Paolo.[24]


Stradivari died on 18 December 1737, aged 93. He is buried in the Church of San Domenico.[26] The tomb was acquired 8 years prior to his death, having bought it from a Cremonese family, substituting their name for his in the tombstone.


His will, dated 1729, is one of the closest approximations we can give to how Stradivari ran his family. Counting his wife, there were eight living heirs at the time Stradivari wrote the draft. Zambelli was left with her clothing, half of her jewelry, bed linens and household items. Antonio declared she would become the responsibility of his two eldest sons. As for Annnunciata Caterina, Antonio left her jewelry, income on loans, clothing and linens. Paolo, the youngest child, was to get six finished violins as well as some household effects and cash. Three other children who had joined religious orders were left with their share of inheritance. Maria, a nun, would get an annuity, Alessandro, a priest, would get fixed income on a home mortgage loan and Giuseppe, another priest would get some income on half a share from a pastry shop. There were also annual payments to his two sons of 150 and 300 lire each, 170 lire for Annunciata as well as 100 for Francesca. To put this into perspective, six violins were valued at approximately 1000 lire, or about 150 lire each.[27]

We are now left with two sons from Antonio’s first marriage who worked in the family shop: Omobono and Franceso. As Omobono had left the dwelling aged eighteen in search of new employment possibilities in Naples, he left Antonio to pay for much of his living expenses. In this sense, his father had never really forgiven him for leaving home. Just as Paolo, he would inherit six violins. That was all that was written on the will for him. As For Francesco, who was named his father’s successor, he would inherit the rest of his father’s belongings, the rest of the estate. This included all of the wood tools, stencils, finished violins, patterns, not to mention, his father’s reputation.[28]


Early career[edit]

Stradivari likely developed his own style slowly. His violins often used slightly smaller dimensions.[citation needed] A notable exception to this is the 1697 Hellier violin, which had much larger proportions.[29] Stradivari's early (pre-1684) violins are in strong contrast to Amati's instruments from the same time period; Stradivari's have a stronger, more masculine build, and less rounded curves, with the purfling set farther in.[30][31]

By 1680, Stradivari had acquired at least a small, yet growing, reputation. In 1682, a Venetian banker ordered a complete set of instruments, which he planned to present to King James II of England.[32] The fate of these instruments is unknown. Cosimo de' Medici bought another five years later.[33] Amati died in 1684, an event followed by a noticeable increase in Stradivari's production.[32] The years 1684 and 1685 also marked an important development in his style – the dimensions he used generally increased, and his instruments were more in the style of Amati's work of the 1640s and 1650s.[34] Stradivari's instruments underwent no major change in the next five years,[35] although in 1688 he began cutting a more distinct bevel and began outlining the heads of instruments in black, a quite original improvement.[36]

Stradivari's early career is marked by wide experimentation, and his instruments during this period are generally considered of a lesser quality than his later work.[37] However, the precision with which he carved the heads and inserted the purfling quickly marked him as one of the most dextrous craftsmen in the world, a prime example of this being the 1690 "Tuscan" violin.[38] Pre-1690 instruments are sometimes termed "Amatisé" but this is not completely accurate; it is largely because Stradivari created many more instruments later on that people try to connect his early work with Amati's style.[39]

By 1680 Stradivari moved to No. 1 Piazza Roma (formally No. 2 Piazza San Domenico).[20] The house was just doors away from those of several other violin making families of Cremona, including the Amatis and Guarneris.[40] Stradivari probably worked in the loft and attic, and he stayed in this house for the rest of his life.[41]

"Golden" period and later years[edit]

The 1721 Lady Blunt is the best representation of Stradivari's golden period

In the early 1690s, Stradivari made a pronounced departure from this earlier style of instrument-making, changing two key elements of his instruments. First, he began to make violins with a larger pattern than previous instruments; these larger violins usually are known as "Long Strads".[42] He also switched to using a darker, richer varnish, as opposed to a yellower varnish similar to that used by Amati.[43] He continued to use this pattern until 1698, with few exceptions. After 1698, he abandoned the Long Strad model and returned to a slightly shorter model, which he used until his death. The period from 1700 until the 1720s is often termed the "golden period" of his production.[44] Instruments made during this time are usually considered of a higher quality than his earlier instruments. Late-period instruments made from the late 1720s until his death in 1737 show signs of Stradivari's advancing age. These late instruments may be a bit less beautiful than the Golden Period instruments, but many nonetheless possess a fine tone.

Stradivari and the Cremonese violin making school[edit]


The Cremonese violin making school

Stradivarius instruments[edit]

Main article: Stradivarius
Antonio Stradivari, by Edgar Bundy, 1893: a romanticized image of a craftsman-hero

Stradivari's instruments are regarded as amongst the finest bowed stringed instruments ever created, are highly prized, and are still played by professionals today. Only one other maker, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, commands a similar respect among violinists. However, neither blind listening tests nor acoustic analysis have ever demonstrated that Stradivarius instruments are better than other high-quality instruments or even reliably distinguishable from them.[45][46][47][48]

Fashions in music, as in other things, have changed over the centuries, and the supremacy of Stradivari's and Guarneri's instruments is accepted only today. In the past, instruments by Nicolò Amati and Jacob Stainer were preferred for their subtle sweetness of tone.

While the usual label for a Stradivarius instrument, whether genuine or false, uses the traditional Latin inscription, after the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, copies were also inscribed with the country of origin. Since thousands of instruments are based on Stradivari's models and bear the same name as his models, many unwary people are deceived into purchasing forged Stradivarius instruments, which can be avoided by having an instrument authenticated.

Some violinists and cellists use Stradivari instruments in their work. Yo-Yo Ma currently uses the Davidov Stradivarius,[49] Julian Lloyd Webber employs the Barjansky Stradivarius,[50] and, until his death in 2007, Mstislav Rostropovich played on the Duport Stradivarius.[51] The Soil of 1714 is owned by virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.[52] The Countess Polignac is currently played by Gil Shaham.[53] The Vienna Philharmonic uses several Stradivari instruments that were purchased by the National Bank of Austria and other sponsors: Chaconne, 1725; ex-Hämmerle, 1709; ex-Smith-Quersin, 1714; ex-Arnold Rosé, ex-Viotti, 1718; and ex-Halphen, 1727.

The London sales of The Mendelssohn at £902,000 ($1,776,940) in 1990[54] and The Kreutzer for £947,500 in 1998[55] constitute two top-selling Stradivari. A record price paid at a public auction for a Stradivari was $2,032,000 for the Lady Tennant at Christie's in New York, April 2005.[56] On 16 May 2006, Christie's auctioned Stradivari's 1707 Hammer for a new record of US$3,544,000.[57] On 2 April 2007, Christie's sold a Stradivari violin, the 1729 Solomon, Ex-Lambert, for more than $2.7 million to an anonymous bidder in the auction house's fine musical instruments sale. Its price, US$2,728,000 including the Christie's commission, far outdid its estimated value: $1 million to $1.5 million.[58] On 14 October 2010, a 1697 Stradivari violin known as "The Molitor" was sold online by Tarisio Auctions for a world-record price of $3,600,000 to renowned concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers: at the time its price was the highest for any musical instrument sold at auction. On 21 June 2011, a 1721 Stradivari violin known as "Lady Blunt" was auctioned by Tarisio to an anonymous bidder for £9,808,000 with all proceeds going to help the victims of the Japan earthquake.[59] This was over four times the previous auction record for a Stradivari violin. The c. 1705 Baron von der Leyen Strad was auctioned by Tarisio on 26 April 2012, for $2.6 million.[60]

Publicly displayed collections of Stradivari instruments are those of the Library of Congress with three violins, a viola, and a cello, the Agency of National Estates of Spain, with a quartet of two violins, the Spanish I and II, the Spanish Court cello, and the Spanish Court viola, exhibited in the Music Museum at the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid]][61] and the Royal Academy of Music's Collections with several instruments by Antonio Stradivari, including the Joachim (1698), Rutson (1694), the Crespi (1699), Viotti ex-Bruce (1709), Kustendyke (1699), Maurin (1718) and the Ex Back (1666) violins, Ex Kux (1714), and the Archinto (1696) violas, the Marquis de Corberon (1726) and the Markevitch (1709) celli.[62][63] The Musée de la musique in Paris displays several beautiful Stradivari instruments that formerly belonged to the Paris Conservatory.

The collection of The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra had the largest number of Stradivari in its string section, purchased in 2003 from the collection of Herbert R. Axelrod, until it recently[when?] decided to sell them off. A collection assembled by Rodman Wanamaker in the 1920s contained as many as 65 stringed instruments by such masters as Stradivari, Gofriller, Baptiste and Giuseppe Guarneri. Included was The Swan, the last violin made by Stradivari,[64] and soloist instrument of the great Cuban 19th-century virtuoso Joseph White.[65] The collection, known as The Cappella, was used in concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski before being dispersed after Wanamaker's death. The Vienna Philharmonic uses four violins and one cello. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has three Stradivari violins dated 1693,[66] 1694[67] and 1717.[68] The National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota, has in its collection one of two known Stradivari guitars,[69] one of eleven known violas da gamba, later modified into a cello form, one of two known choral mandolins, and one of six Stradivari violins that still retain their original neck. In the interests of conservation, the Messiah Stradivarius violin—on display in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England—has not been played at all in recent years.[70]

In fiction[edit]

There are numerous references to Stradivari violins in fiction, including:




Video games

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Saunders, Emma (21 June 2011). "What makes the Stradivarius violin so special?". Entertainment & Arts (BBC News). Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-21. 
  2. ^ "The Big Question: Why do Stradivarius violins fetch so much, and are they worth it?". The Independent. 4 April 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  3. ^ "How many Antonio Stradivari instruments still exist in the world ?". Archived from the original on 23 June 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  4. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 3
  5. ^ Fuller-Maitland et al (1922), p. 707
  6. ^ Chapin, Anna Alice. The Heart of Music: The Story of the Violin. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1921. 268.
  7. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 4
  8. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 6
  9. ^ Pollens (2010), p. 11
  10. ^ Pollens (2010), p. 12
  11. ^ a b Faber (2006), p. 26
  12. ^ Faber (2006) p. 25
  13. ^ a b Hill et al (1963), p. 27
  14. ^ a b Hill et al (1963), p. 26
  15. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 25
  16. ^ Faber (2006), p. 27
  17. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 28
  18. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 8
  19. ^ Faber (2006), p. 28
  20. ^ a b c Hill et al (1963), p. 10
  21. ^ Fuller-Maitland et al (1922), p. 708
  22. ^ Pollens (2010), p. 22
  23. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 12. A visit to the loft is described by H.R. Haweis, My Musical Life (1892), pp.322-328.
  24. ^ a b Pollens (2010), p. 26
  25. ^ SHOENBAUM, David, The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument, Norton, p.30
  26. ^ Faber (2006), p. 59
  27. ^ Shoenbaum, David, The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument, Norton, 2013, p.30
  28. ^ Shoenbaum, David, The Violin: A Social History of the World's Most Versatile Instrument, Norton, 2013, p.31
  29. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 33
  30. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 34
  31. ^ Pollens (2010), p. 16
  32. ^ a b Hill et al (1963) pp. 36–37
  33. ^ Faber (2006), p. 41
  34. ^ Hill et al (1963), pp. 37–38
  35. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 39
  36. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 40
  37. ^ Faber (2006), pp. 29–30
  38. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 41
  39. ^ Petherick (1900), p. 13
  40. ^ Pollens (2010), p. 22
  41. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 12. A visit to the loft is described by H.R. Haweis, My Musical Life (1892), pp.322-328.
  42. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 149
  43. ^ Hill et al (1963), p. 45
  44. ^ Hart (1875), p. 131
  45. ^ Beamen, John (2000). The Violin Explained: Components, Mechanism, and Sound. Oxford University Press. pp. 89–90. ISBN 0-19-816739-3. Retrieved 2009-01-23. 
  46. ^ Coggins, Alan (February 2007). "Blind Listening Tests". The Strad: 52–55. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  47. ^ "Violinists can't tell the difference between Stradivarius violins and new ones" by Ed Yong, Discover, 2 January 2012.
  48. ^ "Player preferences among new and old violins", Fritz, Curtin, Poitevineau, et al. PNAS 2011.
  49. ^ Weatherly, Myra (2006). Yo-Yo Ma: Internationally Acclaimed Cellist. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point. p. 62. ISBN 0-7565-1879-2. 
  50. ^ Woodstra, Chris, Brennan, Gerald & Allen Schrott (eds.) All Music Guide to Classical Music: The Definitive Guide to Classical Music. Berkeley, CA: All Media Guide, 2005. 758. ISBN 0-87930-865-6
  51. ^ Libbey, Ted. The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection, Second Edition. New York: Workman, 1999. 309. ISBN 0-7611-0487-9
  52. ^ Kalbacker, Warren. "The Rotarian Conversation: Itzhak Perlman." The Rotarian 188.5 (November 2009): 48–51.
  53. ^ 21st Century Violinists. San Anselmo, CA: String Letter Publishing, 1999. 96. ISBN 1-890490-26-1
  54. ^ Granata, Charles L. Sessions with Sinatra: Frank Sinatra and the Art of Recording. Chicago, IL: A Capella, 2004. 126. ISBN 1-55652-509-5
  55. ^ Lee, Laura. The Name's Familiar II. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2001. 199. ISBN 1-56554-822-1
  56. ^ Julie Carlson (May 2005). "Strad Mad". Artfact. Retrieved 2007-04-07. [dead link]
  57. ^ Klein, Ellery. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Fiddle. New York: Alpha Books, 2008. 23. ISBN 978-1-59257-768-2
  58. ^ Associate Press (April 2007). "Stradivari violin goes for $2.7M". Yahoo! News. Archived from the original on 5 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 
  59. ^ Auctions, Tarisio. "'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius of 1721". Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  60. ^ Auctions, Tarisio. "'Baron von der Leyen' Stradivarius of c.1705". Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  61. ^ "Violins, violas, cellos & double basses owned by Royal Palace in Madrid". Cozio. 2008. Archived from the original on 3 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  62. ^ "Royal Academy of Music Museum". Royal Academy of music. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  63. ^ "Stradivarius Exhibition". International Music Academy of Montpellier. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 
  64. ^ Malan, Roy. Efrem Zimbalist: A Life. Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus, 2004. 176. ISBN 1-57467-091-3
  65. ^ Bachmann, Alberto Abraham. An Encyclopedia of the Violin. Da Capo Press, 1966. 411. ISBN 0-306-80004-7
  66. ^ "Violin, 1693", "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History", Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed 2 February 2011.
  67. ^ "Violin: "The Francesca," 1694", "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History", Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed 2011-02-02.
  68. ^ "Violin: "The Antonius," 1717", "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History", Metropolitan Museum of Art, accessed 2 February 2011.
  69. ^ Hunhoff, Bernie. South Dakota Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff. Guildford, CT: Insiders' Guide, 2007. 171. ISBN 978-0-7627-4336-0
  70. ^ "Violin: Antonio Stradivari". Highlights of the Ashmolean. Ashmolean Museum. Retrieved 2008-07-04. In recent years, it has not been played at all owing to the demands of conservation 
  71. ^
  72. ^ Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box". In The Original Illustrated 'Strand' Sherlock Holmes. Wordsworth Editions. 307–319. ISBN 1-85326-896-8.
  73. ^ "The Stradivarius Story" at the Internet Movie Database
  74. ^ Stradivari at the Internet Movie Database
  75. ^ Klein, Ellery. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Fiddle. New York: Alpha Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-59257-768-2


External links[edit]

Historical books