Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, c. 1716, the 'Messiah, Messie, Salabue'


Violin: 40111

Number of images available: 6.
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Back: Two-piece of somewhat irregular curl

Top: fine-grained in the center, opening somewhat on the flanks; sound holes noteworthy for their unusual slant

Scroll: outlined by a blackened bevel

Varnish: Light orange-brown

Length of back: 35.6 cm

Body length: Light orange-brown

Upper bouts: 16.75 cm

Middle bouts: 10.83 cm

Lower bouts: 20.8 cm


Notes:

"In 1775 Paolo contracted to sell these instruments [the 10 remaining from his father's workshop] and other things from his father's shop to Count Cozio di Salabue, one of the most important collectors in history; and although Paolo died before the transaction was concluded, Salabue acquired the instruments. Salabue kept the 'Messiah' until 1827, when he sold it to Luigi Tarisio, a fascinating character who, from small beginnings, built up an important business dealing in violins. However, Tarisio could not bear to part with this instrument. Instead, he made it a favorite topic of conversation, and intrigued dealers on his visits to Paris with accounts of this marvelous 'Salabue' violin, as it was then called, taking care, however, never to bring it with him. One day Tarisio was discoursing to Vuillaume on the merits of this unknown and marvelous instrument, when the violinist Delphin Alard, who was present, exclaimed: 'Then your violin is like the Messiah: one always expects him but he never appears' ('Ah, ça, votre violon est donc comme le Messie; on l'attend toujours, et il ne parait jamais'). Thus the violin was baptized with the name by which it is still known."

"Tarisio never parted with the violin and not until his death in 1854 had anyone outside Italy seen it. In 1855, Vuillaume was able to acquire it, and it remained with him, also until his death. Vuillaume guarded the 'Messiah' jealously, keeping it in a glass case and allowing no one to examine it. However, he did allow it to be shown at the 1872 Exhibition of Instruments in the South Kensington Museum, and this was its first appearance in England. After Vuillaume's death in 1875, the violin became the property of his two daughters and then of his son-in-law, the violinist Alard. After Alard's death in 1888, his heirs sold the 'Messiah' in 1890 to W.E. Hill and Sons on behalf of a Mr. R. Crawford of Edinburgh for 2,600 British pounds, at that time the largest sum ever paid for a violin."

The Hill Collection of Musical Instruments, Oxford University Press, London, 1969


"The arguments became highly technical and arcane at times, but broadly speaking Pollens found weaknesses in each authenticating category. Provenance worried him because Le Messie had passed through the ownership of a 19th-century dealer and notorious faker of antique violins, one Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. It was Vuillaume's son-in-law who named it Le Messie because, he said, "[this] violin is like the Messiah of the Jews, because one always waits for him but he never appears." Pollens found little or no proof that Vuillaume had indeed acquired a Stradivarius, but ample evidence that he'd manufactured the provenance subsequently. "

"When Pollens looked at the craftsmanship, he found glaring problems with the violin's f-holes (the decorative "s" lines on the waist of most violins), rib structure and finishing, arguments which certainly looked convincing to this layman. Finally, Pollens asked a leading dendrochronologist, Dr. Peter Klein at Hamburg University, to study the growth rings in the wood of the violin. For that purpose he supplied Dr. Klein with his high-precision photographic studies. The whole controversy was further poisoned by sporadic problems of access to the instrument itself. The conclusion: "The tree used to make the instrument's top was felled after [Antonio] Stradivari's death in 1737." "

Fake Messiah?, Melik Kaylan, Forbes


Fingerprints Under the Varnish: Comparing Thickness Graduations of the "Messiah" Violin to Golden Age Strads by Jeffrey S.Loen.

Thickness graduation maps of the "Messiah" violin show similar characteristics to those of the Betts (1704), Cremonese (1715), Tuscan-Medici (1716), and other Golden Age Stradivarius violins. Top plates are generally thin (2-3 mm), with the thickest areas (3-4 mm) occurring between the c-bouts and the f-holes. Back plates have a central concentric zone of greatest thickness (4-5 mm), in which the center of thickness lies distinctly left of the centerline in the Cremonese, Tuscan-Medici, and Kashininov violins. The thickness pattern on the back of the Messiah violin is almost identical to that of the Cremonese violin, including asymmetrical center of thickness points located more than 30 mm left of center. These characteristics do not prove the Messiah's authenticity, although such a hypothesis seems permissive because of the similarity of these commonly hidden, highly personal traits.


A University of Arkansas researcher and his colleagues used tree ring records to accurately date the wood used in a famous violin purported to be made by Stradivarius and showed that the wood was hewn during the violin maker's lifetime.

Malcolm Cleaveland, professor of geosciences, joined lead investigator Henri Grissino-Mayer of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Paul Sheppard of the University of Arizona in reporting their findings at a recent meeting of the Violin Society of America in Carlisle, Pa.

The violin in question bears the name Messiah and is believed to be one of the instruments made by the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivarius. After a colorful past, the instrument landed in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, England, where it has remained on display -- enclosed in glass.

Four years ago an American expert declared the Messiah a fake. The controversy over the violin's origin escalated as a British violin maker and tree ring researcher dated the instrument to the 1680s, while a German tree ring expert put the date in the late 1730s -- too late to be an authentic Stradivarius. The British investigator measured the violin itself, while the German researcher measured the rings using photographs.

"The German researcher didn't have an instrument to measure, and the British expert presented no convincing graphical evidence or verifiable statistical evidence for his assertions," Cleaveland said.

The controversy continued in the violin world, where enthusiasts consider a Stradivarius to be almost priceless. This particular instrument is prized because of its pristine condition.

Helen Hayes, the president of the Violin Society of America, put together a panel of American dendrochronologists led by Grissino-Mayer, who invited Cleaveland and Sheppard to measure the tree rings in the Messiah. The researchers brought specialized microscopes and measuring equipment to the Ashmolean, where they carefully teased out the tree rings lying beneath a coat of varnish on the front piece of the violin.

The front of the violin is made from Norway spruce from somewhere in southern Europe. It is made from two pieces of the same tree joined together at the center in what is called a "butterfly." The oldest rings from the center of the tree would be found at the center of the violin's front, so the researchers were allowed to remove the strings and use their microscopes and instruments to make measurements.

The researchers compared the rings to tree ring chronologies for Norway spruce found at high altitudes in the Alps of Austria, Italy, Germany and France. They also compared the Messiah tree rings to those of another famous violin, the Archinto, which they measured at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The Archinto, a confirmed Stradivarius dating back to 1696, had more rings for comparison -- 159 versus 109 in the Messiah.

They were able to determine, by comparing the Messiah to the Archinto and the Archinto to the tree ring chronologies, that the wood in the Messiah dates back to 1686 -- during the lifetime of Stradivarius.

"We can't confirm that this is a Stradivarius, but we can say that it's in the right time frame," Cleaveland said.


Instrument #91 at the South Kensington Special Exhibition of 1872.

Catalogue of the Special Exhibition at South Kensington, England, Catalogue of the Special Exhibition at South Kensington, England, London


Count Cozio's notes: "Printed label with seal as above: anno 1716(716 is handwritten). Round, beautiful, strong, and even voice. Description: larger model. Intact. Strong red varnish going towards pastel. Very fine work in all its parts with excellent purfling. Top and back have medium arching and well leveled at the edges. The top has straight medium even grain. The maker put in a patch above the sound post for reinforcement. Two-piece back with pronounced wide grain. The joint does not follow the grain, which opens upwards. The button is two-thirds of a circle. Sides and neck are made of the same good wood. G. B. Guadagnini raised the neck angle and put on a fingerboard. He also put in a large squared patch above the sound post to reinforce a hard-to-see crack. The scroll is of good work with a black outline as usual. It is worth at least 150 zecchini." (p.219)

Memoirs of a Violin Collector: Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salabue, Brandon Frazier, Baltimore, 2007


"There is a beautiful and very perfect violin by Stradiuarius, which the Times, in an article on these instruments, calls La Messie. These leading journals have private information on every subject, even grammar. I prefer to call it after the very intelligent man to whom we owe the sight of it the Vuillaume Stradiuarius. Well, the Vuillaume Stradiuarius is worth, as times go, £600 at least. Wash off the varnish, it would be worth £35 ; because, unlike No. 94, it has one little crack."

Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini


"Almost all of Cozio's instruments came under Guadagnini's knife, usually in order to reorientate the neck, but in this case, Cozio also mentions a large square patch he fitted to the interior, which is no longer present -- another of the enigmas that surround the 'Messiah'. . .

Vuillaume change the violin's bass-bar, lengthened the neck and at the same time inscribed the interior 'achette par Tarisio au Ct Cozio de Salabue an 1827 achette par Vuillaume le 12 Janr 1855 Le Messie'. This is still legible in the upper back, and is the first reference to the date of Tarisio's purchase from Cozio, although it is possible that this is unreliable. . .

Vuillaume died in 1875 and the 'Messiah' passed to Alard. In that year, Charles-Nicolas-Eugene Gand saw it and described it in his notebook. He mentions the small resin patch beside the fingerboard, an irrefutable identifying feature of the violin, and gives the date of Tarisio's purchase as 1824. . .

Indeed, we do not have to look far to find imperfections. . . The scroll is oddly unmatched to the rest of the instrument, if we take the 'G' marking in the pegbox at face value. . .

The star is one of the oddest things about the violin. It sits, accurately placed, in the centre of the bass-side eye, under the varnish, and matched by two similar imprints on the fron face of the pegbox mortice. It is very similar to the star brands seen on two of the Stradivari moulds, the 'G' and 'B', although never having had the opportunity to place the 'Messiah' directly beside the moulds, it is impossible to say that they are precisely the same. I know of no other instrument that has this mark on the scroll, or anywhere else for that matter. . .

The suggestion by conspiracy theorists that the odd qualities of the 'Messiah' betray the violin as a fake are fairly easy to dsimiss. Whoever had the skill to make such a fine replica of a Stradivari would surely not have built into it such unprecedented eccentricities. . .

The truth is, we don't know enough. The 'Messiah' is an enigma. . ."

The 'Messiah' Stradivari Violin, John Dilworth, The Strad, March 2011, London

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