Antonio Stradivari, the ‘Empress Caterina’ of 1708

The 'Empress Caterina', a Golden Period Stradivari, will be sold by Tarisio in New York on June 8, 2023.

By Jason Price May 15, 2023

Complete in all parts, in good condition and with important provenance reaching back nearly 300 years, the ‘Empress Caterina’ is a highly attractive Golden Period Stradivari. Using the resources of the Cozio Archive, specifically the archives and business records of W. E. Hill & Sons, Rembert Wurlitzer, Caressa & Français and William Moennig & Son we have documented the provenance of this important violin which comes for sale on June 8.

The history of the ‘Empress Caterina’ Stradivari was first recorded in 1898 in the Business Records of W. E. Hill & Sons. In April of that year Alfred Hill visited Russia with Baron Johann Knoop, who had extensive business dealings in Russia and was one of the Hills’ best customers. In St. Petersburg and Moscow, Alfred cataloged the collections of Prince Youssapoff and “brought back intelligence concerning the existence of 16 more instruments by Stradivari that were unknown to us before.”[1] Among these instruments was the 1708 ‘Empress Caterina’ which Alfred bought for the firm.

Empress Catherine the Great in 1763 –
Fyodor Rokotov in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

According to Alfred Hill, in the mid-18th century, the Russian ambassador to Venice procured this instrument for the Empress Elisabeth Petrovna who reigned over the Russian Empire from 1741-1762. When Elisabeth died, the violin passed to her successor Catherine the Great, under whose rule the arts prospered and western Enlightenment ideals flourished. One of Catherine’s secretaries of state was Adrian Moïsevitch Gribovsky, an ambitious colonel and court advisor who was a lover of music, an amateur violinist and had his own serf orchestra.[2] The Stradivari passed to Gribovsky and then to his son-in-law, Vasily Yakovlevich Guberti.[3]

The Russian ambassador to Venice procured this instrument for the Empress Elisabeth Petrovna who reigned over the Russian Empire from 1741-1762

Adrian Moïsevitch Gribovsky in 1795 –
Nikolay Argunov in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Alfred Hill brought the ‘Empress Caterina’ back to London in 1898 and a year later the Hill firm sold the violin to Mrs. Marie Douglas Stothert[4], a French violinist who had studied in Brussels and married a wealthy English engineer, Arthur Kendall Stothert. The Hills noted that Mrs. Stothert was “a fairly brilliant player.”[5] A portrait of Mrs. Stothert with her violin, painted by Hubert von Herkomer, is in the collection of the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Marie Douglas Stothert in c. 1894 –
Hubert von Herkomer in the Royal Holloway, University of London

Twelve years later, Mrs. Stothert traded the 1708 back to Hills and purchased the 1714 ‘Dolphin’ Stradivari[6], later the concert instrument of Jascha Heifetz. Two months later the Hills sold the 1708 to Henri Belville[7], a professional violinist from Bois-Colombes near Paris. The Hills reference the violin in their 1902 monograph on Stradivari, but the date of the instrument was mistakenly recorded as 1706.[8]

Twelve years later, Mrs. Stothert traded the 1708 back to Hills and purchased the 1714 ‘Dolphin’ Stradivari, later the concert instrument of Jascha Heifetz

In 1919 the violin was acquired by the French businessman, Prosper Maurel, the owner of the Malt Kneipp company[9]. Two years later it was sold by Caressa & Français to the violinist Leo Guetta of Venice.[10] While in Guetta’s possession it was exhibited at the 1937 Stradivari Bicentennial exhibition in Cremona and illustrated in the book that followed[11]. After Guetta’s death in 1945, the violin passed to his daughter Peggy Guetta Finzi.

By 1951 the Stradivari had arrived in New York and was certified by Rembert Wurlitzer[12]. A year later it was sold by William Moennig & Son to Dr. Jacob Gershon-Cohen[13], a prominent Philadelphia radiologist who pioneered techniques in mammography. In 1971 the ‘Empress Caterina’ was bought by the American collector Herbert Axelrod[14], and in 1982, it was acquired by the German-Italian industrial entrepreneur, Giorgio Feige. The instrument is being sold by Feige’s heirs.

The ‘Empress Caterina’ is sold with certificates from Tarisio, Rembert Wurlitzer, William Moennig & Son, Silvestre & Maucotel, and Caressa & Français.

A dendrochronology examination dated the latest annual rings for the treble and bass sides of the top to 1700 and 1702 respectively. Significant cross matches were found with the 1713 ‘Rothschild-Kux’, 1719 ‘Rappoldi’, 1718 ‘Szekely’, 1715 ‘Alard’, 1714 ‘ex-Joachim’, 1712 ‘Hrimaly’, 1716 ‘Baron Wittgenstein’ and others.[15]


1. W. E. Hill & Sons Business Records, unpublished, June 4, 1898.
2. Jacob von Stählin, Nachrichten von der Musik in Russland.
3. Ibid.
4. Hill, February 16, 1899, sold for £650.
5. Hill, April 26, 1910.
6. Hill, May 31, 1910.
7. Hill, July 22, 1910.
8. Hill, William Henry; Hill, Arthur Frederick; Hill, Alfred Ebsworth, Antonio Stradivari. His Life and Work (1644–1737), W.E. Hill & Sons, London, 1902, p. 54.
9. Caressa & Français Sales Ledgers. Jacques Français Rare Violins, Inc. Photographic Archive and Business Records at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. Box 55, Folder 2, P. 208.
10. IBID.
11. L’Esposizione di Liuteria Antica a Cremona, nel 1937, Comitato per la Celebrazione del Bicentario Stradivariano, Cremona, 1938, p. 153.
12. The Business records of the Rudolf Wurlitzer Company, unpublished, stock card 2697.
13. Certificate of William Moennig & Son, Philadelphia, September 15, 1952.
14. Applebaum, Samuel & Sada, The Way They Play: Book 2, Neptune City, NJ, 1973, p. 377-384.
15. Ratcliff, Peter. Dendrochronology report.

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