Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1696, the 'Spanish Court'

Viola: 40261

Contralto viola of the original quintet

Back: One-piece

Top: of very fine grain

Varnish: Golden

Length of back: 41.4 cm

Upper bouts: 18.3 cm

Middle bouts: 13.0 cm

Lower bouts: 24.0 cm

There are 2 additional images in the archive which are not available publicly. Please contact us for more information.


"The inlaid tenor, illustrations of which we give, exhibits a masterly combination of choice material, appropriate ornamentation, and refined style. The figure of the maple used for back, sides, and head is charming, and homogeneous throughout; the beauty of the slender and wavy curls being shown up by the delicate golden varnish of perfect transparency and lightness of texture. The freshness of this instrument's appearance and its state of preservation are extraordinary; the sound-holes and head convey the impression of their having been wrought but yesterday; even the black lines with which Stradivari out-lined the curves of the head are unworn, and the original neck still remains.

Hart gives the year 1687 as that in which Stradivari made the beautiful set of inlaid instruments for the Spanish Court; but, as we shall see hereafter, this statement is erroneous. If we again refer to Arisi, we learn that Stradivari made a concerto of instruments which he intended to present to Philip V of Spain on the occasion of the passage of that King through Cremona in 1702, for which event he had prepared a memorial; but he was dissuaded, adds Arisi, 'the instruments are still in his possession.' Now, it must be remembered that this interesting information was committed to paper by the worthy monk in 1720, showing that Stradivari had already retained them some years.

In the course of inquiries made both in Italy and Spain, we have been fortunate enough to obtain the subsequent history of the instruments which, we believe, formed this interesting concerto. It consisted of two violins, two violas (one a 'tenore'), and a violoncello. They were still in Stradivari's possession at his death in 1737, and then passed to his son Francesco, who, dying in 1742, left them to his brother Paolo, by whom they were sold in the year 1775 to a priest of the name of Padre Brambilla, for the sum of 125 giliati.

Padre Brambilla took them to Madrid, and there disposed of them to the Spanish Monarch, thus possibly (we say 'possibly' because we have no conclusive proof of the fact). We believe, however, that this concerto of instruments is the identical set that Stradivari wished to present to King Philip, fulfilling the maker's original intention with regard to their destination. The purchase was most probably due to the musical taste of the Infante Don Carlos, who played the violin. This Prince ascended the throne in 1788 as Charles IV. We learn furthermore that in 1776 Antonio, the son of Paolo Stradivari, at the instigation of Count Cozio de Salabue, tried to repurchase the instruments, but without success. We have ascertained these facts from the correspondence exchanged between Count Cozio, Paolo Stradivari, and his son Antonio."

Antonio Stradivarius: His Life & Work, W. Henry, Arthur F. & Alfred E. Hill, W. Henry, Arthur F. & Alfred E. Hill, Antonio Stradivari: His Life & Work (1644-1737), London

"The quintet was allowed to rest, at least for a while, during Spain's long struggle with the French. But the instruments did not come through the hostilities unscathed. The French carried the two violas (contralto and tenor) off to Paris in 1819 where they were bought by a certain M. Rivaz (we know only his name), who took them to London. . . . The tenor viola was lost, probably forever."

The King of Spain Strads, Edward Sainati, The Strad, December, 1993, London

"A tenor of Stradiuarius was in the sale of Sir Win. Curtis, lot 6, which the auctioneer stated to be one of the most valuable specimens of the maker, and not to be surpassed; it was put up at 150 guineas, but no offer was made for it."

The History of the Violin and Other Instruments Played On With the Bow From the Remotest Times to the Present, William Sandys and Simon Andrew Forster, The History of the Violin and Other Instruments Played On With the Bow From the Remotest Times to the Present, London


until 1772 Paolo Stradivari
in 1772 Padre Brambilla
1772 - 1812 Don Carlos (King Charles IV)
until 1819 Koliker
1819 - 1825 Alexander Rivaz
1825 - 1829 Sir William Curtis
... ...
1876 - 1881 John Adam
1881 - 1887 Duc de Camposelice
1887 - 1891 Isabella Eugenia, Duchess of Camposelice
in 1891 Sold by W. E. Hill & Sons
from 1891 Charles James Oldham
- Baron Johann Knoop
until 1913 W. E. Hill & Sons
from 1913 Richard Bennett
in 1925 Sold by W. E. Hill & Sons
... ...
in 2002 Royal Palace in Madrid


  • Antonio Stradivari and His Instruments, William Henley, Amati Publishing, Ltd., Sussex, 1961 (illustrated)
  • Antonio Stradivari: l'estetica sublime, Maurizio Villa, Consorzio Liutai Antonio Stradivari, Cremona (illustrated)
  • Antonio Stradivari: His Life & Work (1644-1737), W. Henry, Arthur F. & Alfred E. Hill, William E. Hill & Sons, London, 1902 (illustrated)
  • Antonius Stradivarius (Balfoort), Dirk J. Balfoort, The Continental Book Company, Stockholm (illustrated)
  • Luthier's Corner | Just another WordPress site
  • The Strad, June, 1951, London (illustrated)
  • The History of the Violin and Other Instruments Played On With the Bow From the Remotest Times to the Present, William Sandys and Simon Andrew Forster, John Russell Smith, London
  • The Strad, December, 1993, Edward Sainati, Orpheus, London (illustrated)
  • Violin Iconography of Antonio Stradivari 1644-1737, Herbert K. Goodkind, Larchmont, NY (illustrated)
  • W. E. Hill & Sons Photographic Archive (illustrated)


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