The violin has had the good fortune of being born perfectly formed, with model and dimensions that have remained more or less untouched for nearly 500 years. The viola and cello on the other hand weren’t so lucky. Their dimensions, tuning, and intended role in the ensemble remained unsettled and subject to myriad modifications and adaptations for another few hundred years. In the case of the cello, even its name was up for grabs: in Italy alone in the 17th century, printed music and archival sources call instruments of the bass register by a multitude of names: bassetto, bassetto di viola, basso da brazzo, basso di viola, basso viola da brazzo, violone, violonzono, violoncino, viola granda, violonzino, violonzello, violone piccolo, violone basso, violone grande, violone doppio, violone grosso, violone grande and contrabasso. [1] Such varied terminology suggests both a great variety of existing instruments and extensive ongoing experimentation. It was only in around 1665 that the first music was written to use the specific term ‘violoncello’. [2] For the sake of convenience we will refer to all instruments in this survey as cellos, although it is unlikely that either the makers of the earliest of these instruments or the first musicians to play them would have called them by that name.

  • The earliest surviving identifiable cello, the 'King' Andrea Amati cello from c. 1550-1570. (Outline recreated see note 3).
  • The few surviving Maggini cellos are the earliest known instruments of a 75.5 cm size.
  • Cellos by the Brothers Amati have almost all been reduced in size. This 70.7 cm five-string cello was likely originally intended as a violoncello piccolo.
  • One of the best preserved Stradivari cellos, the uncut 1690 'Medici' has a back length of 79.3 cm.
  • In or just before 1707 Stradivari hit upon his greatest cello innovation, the 75.5 cm long ‘forma B’.
  • The later Stradivari cellos, like the 1730 'Pawle', have a narrow waist, a shorter body length and show the assistance of Francesco Stradivari and Carlo Bergonzi.
  • Smaller-pattern cellos like this 1706 Rogeri offered musicians a more manageable instrument for virtuoso playing.
  • Giovanni Tononi made cellos of a long body length based roughly on an Amati pattern.
  • Matteo Goffriller made cellos on both a larger and a smaller pattern such as this c. 1730 example.
  • The great cello maker Domenico Montagnana made cellos on a wide model with a reduced body length of around 74.0 cm
  • The Cremonese and Venetian violin making traditions have their first intersection with Pietro Guarneri.
  • The shallow C-bouts and short, pert corners create an effect of compact refinement and graceful elegance in the cellos of Santo Serafin.