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Antonio Stradivari (1644 – December 18, 1737) was an Italianmarker luthier, a crafter of stringed instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars and harps. Stradivari is generally considered the most significant artisan in this field. The Latinized form of his surname, Stradivarius, as well as the colloquial, "Strad", is often used to refer to his instruments.

Biography

Antonio Stradivari examining an instrument, in a Romantic 19th-century print.
Stradivari is believed to have been born in the year 1644, although documentation of his exact birth date has not been found. He was born in Cremonamarker, a small Italian city, to Alessandro Stradivari and Anna Moroni. It is possible that in 1658 — 1664 he served as a pupil in workshops of Nicolò Amati, though searches through the parish returns of Cremona have failed to verify any association.

Stradivari married in July 1667 to Francesca Feraboschim, a young widow. Together, they had six children. In 1698 Feraboschim died. He remarried in 1699 to Antonia Maria Zambelli, and had five more children with her.

In 1680 Stradivari settled himself in the Piazza San Domenico, Cremonamarker, and his fame as an instrument-maker was quickly established. His originality was evident in his alterations of Amati's models; the arching was changed, the various degrees of thickness in the wood were more exactly determined, the formation of the scroll was altered, and the varnish was more highly coloured. The twelve violin forms currently housed in Cremona's Museo Stradivariano are evidence that, well into the 1700s, Stradivari continued experimenting with the proportions of his violins. It is generally acknowledged that his finest instruments were manufactured between 1698 and 1725, exceeding in quality those subsequently manufactured between 1725 and 1730. After 1730, some of the instruments are signed and were likely made by his sons, Omobono and Francesco.
The Spanish II Stradivarius, ca. 1687 on exhibit at Palacio Real, Madrid
In addition to violins, Stradivari also made guitars, violas, cellos, and at least one harp — more than 1,101 instruments in all, by current estimates. Approximately 650 of these instruments still survive.

Antonio Stradivari died in Cremona, Italymarker on December 18, 1737, and was buried in the Basilica of San Domenico, in Cremona. When this church was demolished in 1868, the removal of recent pavement revealed the stone lid to the Stradivari family vault in the Chapel of the Rosary. It appears from contemporary accounts (Mandelli) that Antonio Stradivari's remains were unidentifiable.

Stradivarius instruments

Stradivari's instruments are regarded as amongst the finest bowed stringed instruments ever created, are highly prized, and still played by professionals today. Only one other maker, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, commands a similar respect among violinists. Fashions in music, as in other things, have changed over the centuries, and the accepted supremacy of Stradivari's and Guarneri's instruments is only true today. In the past, instruments by Nicolò Amati and Jacob Stainer were preferred for their subtle sweetness of tone.

The top five world record prices paid for any musical instrument are for Stradivarius violins and were all sold at auction by Christie's. On May 16, 2006, Christie's auctioned a Stradivarius called The Hammer for a record US$3,544,000. It holds the record for the most paid to date at public auction for any musical instrument. The previous record price paid at a public auction for a Stradivarius was US$2,032,000 for the Lady Tennant at Christie's in New York, April 2005. On April 2, 2007 Christie's sold a Stradivari violin for more than US$2.7 million, well above its estimate. The 1729 instrument, known as the Solomon, Ex-Lambert, went 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: US$1 million to US$1.5 million. The London sales of The Mendelssohn at £902,000 ($1,776,940) in 1990 and The Kreutzer for £947,500 ($1,591,800) in 1998 constitute as the other two top selling Stradivari.

Other famous Stradivarius instruments are the Davidov Stradivarius, a cello currently played by Yo-Yo Ma, the Barjansky Stradivarius, a cello currently played by Julian Lloyd Webber and the Duport Stradivarius, a cello owned by Mstislav Rostropovich until his death in 2007. The Soil of 1714 is owned by virtuoso Itzhak Perlman. The Countess Polignac is currently played by Gil Shaham. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra uses several Stradivarius instruments that were purchased by the Österreichische Nationalbankmarker (Austrian National Bank) and other sponsors: Chaconne, 1725; ex-Hämmerle, 1709; ex-Smith-Quersin, 1714; ex-Arnold Rose, ex-Viotti, 1718; and ex-Halphen, 1727.

While the usual label for a Stradivarius instrument, whether genuine or false, uses the traditional Latin inscription, after the McKinnley Tariff Act of 1891, 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, although this can be avoided by having an instrument authenticated.

The world's two largest publicly accessible collections of Stradivari instruments are those of the U.S.marker Library of Congressmarker with three violins, a viola, and a cello, and the Agency of National Estates of Spainmarker, 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 Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace). The collection of the 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 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. 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 Artmarker has three Stradivari violins dated 1693, 1694, and 1717. The University of South Dakota, in Vermillion, South Dakota, has in its collection one of two known Stradivari guitars, one of eleven known viola da gambas, 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 Museummarker in Oxford, England—has not been played at all in recent years. The Royal Academy of Musicmarker's Collectionsmarker include 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 (1966) violins, Ex Kux (1714), and the Archinto (1696) violas, the Marquis de Corberon (1726) and the Markevitch (1709) celli.

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