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"Tuscan" Violin

Cremona 1690
Antonio Stradivari (Cremona 1645 ca. - 1737)
inv. n. 287

The "Toscano" (Tuscan) violin

The violin known as "Tuscan Strad" is a fine example of Antonio Stradivari's output from the last decade of 1600, when the violin began to proliferate. Its sound, so similar to the human voice in its ability to effect strong accents and dynamic contrasts, was well-suited to the performance of Baroque music, which aimed at rousing intense emotions. By the end of that century the violin was already the primary instrument in orchestras and chamber ensembles, as well as the protagonist in many solo performances.

In 1690 Stradivari was commissioned by Marquis Ariberti of Cremona to build a complete string quintet. Consisting of two violins, two violas (alto and tenor) and a cello, this configuration was one of the principal Baroque chamber ensembles. Today the "Tuscan Strad" is the only surviving violin from what became known as the "Medici Quintet". The other violin was already lost by the end of the 18th century. The alto viola is preserved at the Library of Congress in Washington and the tenor viola and cello are in the Cherubini Conservatory collection at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence.

Both the violn and the quintet owe their nicknames to their first owner, Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici - the oldest son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III - who was a music lover and a musician himself. Marquis Ariberti had commissioned the five instruments from Stradivari with the intention of giving them to the Grand Prince. When he presented the two violins and the cello in late summer 1690, he was able to write to Stradivari that the Prince "appreciated them to a degree that I could not, for my own satisfaction, have whished to be any greater" and in another letter from the same period he wrote that "all the virtuosi of the Grand Duke's court have the same mind in pronouncing them perfect".

Stradivari selected prime materials for both acoustic quality and beauty, taking great care in the decoration of each instrument so that the gift would be worthy of its recipient. The only instruments of the five to have preserved every detail exactly as crafted by Stradivari is the tenor viola, which allows us to admire the richness and fine detail of the original inalys and decorations that once also embellished the violin. Like the other surviving instruments of the quintet, the "Tuscan" has undergone both structural and aesthetic modifications over the years as it was adapted to evolving stages in the musical repertoire.
What we can still appreciate about the aesthetics of the quintet as a whole is Stradivari's choice of woods, which give the instruments a rare uniformity and elegance and contribute to their remarkable sound.

The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia purchased the "Tuscan Strad" in 1953 from W.E. Hill & Sons of London (which had bought and sold it several times since 1888), along with a document proving its provenance: the receipt from its 1794 sale by Giovanni Felice Mosell, who at the time was principal violin in the Medici's court, to an Irish musician. The Accademia then loaned the instrument to concert violinist Giovanna De Vito, because of her artistic excellence and her contribution to rediscovering of the Tuscan violin. When she retired in 1962, Ms. De Vito returned the violin and a specially appointed commission then loaned it to Pina Carminelli who, in turn, gave it back in 1977.