Viola by Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1690, "Tuscan-Medici." Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.
Originally part of an ensemble made for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando de Medici, this 1690 viola eventually was separated from its brethren and sold in 1803 to an Englishman in Florence. Over the next 100 years, the viola landed in France, returned to England, and eventually made its way to New York City through the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. In 1925 it was sold to Herbert N. Straus, a German whose family had founded the Macy's department store empire.
The arching of the "Tuscan-Medici" viola is high, rising to 19.5 mm on the back and 18.7 mm on the top, and retains the barrel shape common to Stradivari's work of the last decade of the 17th century. Dendrochronology dates the top wood, which has similar grain to other Stradivari works from the 1690s, to 1683.
The instrument has six-filled holes in the ribs below the saddle. These holes indicate that either the viola was at one time strung with more than four strings or that a unique type of tailpiece may have been attached to the bottom block at these points.
On the inside of the top in the treble upper bout, written in pen, is the inscription: The Medici Stradivari / AH June 1913. This corresponds with the Hills acquiring the viola from Mr. Avery Tyrell in 1913, the "AH" standing for Alfred Hill.
When the modern fingerboard was removed, the varnish was darker in an area that would have reflected the position of the original fingerboard. This area measured 78 mm down from the upper edge and was the same width as the modern fingerboard. The instrument had no varnish for a length of 60 mm from the end of the neck on account of Stradivari's method of varnishing with the fingerboard in place.