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Article Violoncello by Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1699, "Castelbarco"

The known history of this magnificent cello begins with Count Cesare Castelbarco of Milan. Today the violoncello is united in a quartet of Stradivaris, as it was in Castelbarco's collection; one of its musical partners was the 1699 violin also in this display.

After the count's death, the instrument passed to Egidio Fabbri of Rome, who first acquired it from Vuillaume. It later came into the possession of his son-in-law, the Marchese de Piccolellis, and then went into obscurity. In How Many Strads? (1945), Ernest N. Doring recounts his experience in advising a family in New York on their cello. He was confronted with the "Castelbarco," which had been in New York--unknown--for a number of years. It later passed to Hills in London and next to Wurlitzer in New York, including an illustration of the cello in their 1931 catalog. In 1934 the "Castelbarco" came into the possession of Mrs. Whittall.

The "Castelbarco" is significant for a number of reasons, not least in that it is one of a handful of Stradivari cellos of the large form that still retain their original, large, uncut dimensions.

This cello is one of three uncut Stradivari cellos, along with the 1690 "Medici," the 1696 "Aylesford," and the 1701 "Servais," which retains its original body outline and size. The wood on the back and sides has been described both as willow and poplar. Due to similarity in the pore structure of these two species, an absolute identification is improbable at this time. William Henry Hill referred to 10 to 12 cellos made of this wood.[1] Herbert K. Goodkind observed cellos of 1688, 1698, 1707, and 1726 as having similar wood.[2]

The scroll and pegbox wood of the "Castelbarco" violoncello appears to have a denser, more homogeneous structure. This composition suggests that an alternative wood, possibly pear--and differing from the back and side wood, was used to provide more stability for the pegs. The location of bushing material seen in the interior of the pegbox shows that the cello was always strung with four, rather than five, strings. The one-piece back and two-piece top show neither added wood nor "wings" at the edges. The ribs bear the linen that Stradivari was known to have added and are virtually free of cracks.

On the back of the instrument is a wooden pin, 262.5 to 266.25 mm down from the inside of the purfling below the button. This pin could be an artifact of a time when the instrument had an attached cord or chain that hung around the player's neck for playing in a standing posture. On the back of the scroll are remnants of a material resembling sealing wax located 160 mm up from the extreme lower edge of the back of the pegbox. The edges of the cello have not been doubled. The inside of the top of the instrument has scribe marks from locating the f-hole placement with a compass.

...As for the 'Castelbarco' 'cello, any artist who has once drawn his bow across its strings will be haunted forever by its unforgettable tone. When all the strings are playing together the ensemble is like a heavenly choir, for they all speak the same language. -- Gertrude Clarke Whittall


  1. William Henry Hill, Antonio Stradivari: His Life and Work (London, W. E. Hill & Sons, 1902): 133. [back to article]
  2. Herbert K. Goodking, Violin Iconography of Antonio Stradivari (Larchmont, NY: 1972). [back to article]

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