Sunday, February 16, 2020

Stradivaris, Amatis, Guarneris, and more at the Smithsonian

By Andy Fein, Luthier at Fein Violins
Ivana Truong

This is Presidents weekend and maybe a few people have Washington, D.C. on their minds. Do you know the American people own a tremendous number of historic instruments? The collections of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian are treasures of the United States and belong to each and every American.
The inlay on the Side of the Scroll of the Greffuhle Stradivarius violin

In our last blog post, we wrote about the instruments of the Royal Academy of Music. As a follow-up, we'd like to write about the instruments in the Smithsonian Collection in Washington, D.C. Several of the instruments have been featured on our blog before, but this post is dedicated entirely to exploring the Smithsonian and Library of Congress' instruments.

Of course, we have to include the 'Castelbarco', which we have discussed in our multiple blogposts on Stradivari's cellos. In our blog post on the evolution of cello size, we mentioned that the Castelbarco is one of the few early Stradivarius cellos with its original dimensions- in other words, it's huge. The Castelbarco belongs to the Library of Congress and is displayed in the reading room. The Castelbarco cello is part of a collection donated in the 1930s by Gertrude Clarke Whittall which also includes the Castelbarco violin, the Betts violin, the Ward violin, and the Cassavetti viola.

1699 Castelbarco

1699 Castelbarco

1699 Castelbarco

A video on the Whittall collection 

Another violin in the Whittall Collection is the Castelbarco violin, made in 1699. The violin is one of Stradivarius' last "long-form instruments", meaning it's slightly longer and narrower than his more well-known golden period instruments.

1699 Castelbarco Violin 

1699 Castelbarco Violin

1699 Castelbarco Violin: F-holes

Another Stradivarius in the Library of Congress is the 'Betts'. The 1704 Betts violin is named after John Betts, a violinmaker in London who bought the violin in excellent condition for one guinea in 1820. After the death of Betts' son, the violin was sold to WE Hill,  and eventually to Whittall's, before ending up at the Library of Congress, where it is displayed in the performing arts reading room.

1704 Betts Violin

1704 Betts Violin

C-bouts of 1704 Betts Violin

Another cool violin in the Library of Congress collection is the 1871 Vuillaume violin. Vuillaume was a French violin maker and dealer with a huge workshop that trained many French luthiers. Most Stradivarius violins have been in Vuillaume's shop at one point or another and Vuillaume has made many detailed copies of Stradivarius instruments.

A Stradivarius in the Smithsonian collection is 1709 Greffuhle, one of only eleven decorated Stradivarius instruments.  The sides and scroll are decorated with motifs of vines, flowers, and different animals. The violin is currently in the National Museum of American History.

One-piece Maple Back on the 1709 Greffuhle

A Closer Look at the Inlay

The Inlay on the Side of the Violin

This violin is an Amati model and was originally owned by the violinist and historian James Corbett France, who actually played in the Minneapolis area. His wife donated the violin to the Library of Congress with the hope that it would be played in concert. Since then, it has been loaned long-term to Nurit Bar-Josef, the concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra.

1871 Vuillaume Violin Back

1871 Vuillaume Violin 

1871 Vuillaume Violin Front

An ornamented violin made by Honoré Derazey, a luthier who worked at Vuillaume's workshop for a period, is kept in the Smithsonian collection. Derazey made many ornamented violins for Vuillaume and continued making them after opening his own workshop in Mirecourt. This violin, made around 1880, was probably a collaboration with his son.

Front of 1880 Derazey

Decorated Back of 1880 Derazey

scroll carved into the shape of a bearded man with a laurel wreath

All these images are from the online catalogs of the Library of Congress and Smithsonian. If you have some free time I would recommend taking a look, there are plenty of cool instruments that we had to leave out for the sake of time!

You can also see many of these instruments at the various Smithsonian and affiliated museums. They have nearly 8,000 instruments! And check the concert schedule and recordings available. You can hear them too!

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