The ‘Contessa, Princess de Polignac’, a Long Pattern Stradivari
In the last decade of the 17th century Antonio Stradivari began experimenting with a violin model of slightly longer dimensions and a slightly narrower pattern. It is unclear what inspired this change but the new ‘long pattern’ model seems to have captured his attention from around 1690 to 1699. With a back length of up to 36.3 cm, long pattern violins like the 1699 ‘Contessa, Princess de Polignac’ were only 5–8 mm longer than normal, but they were a notable deviation from the back length that had been in virtual continual use in Cremona since the 16th century.
It has been suggested that Stradivari found inspiration for this new pattern in the violins of the great Brescian maker Giovanni Paolo Maggini, who worked in the early 17th century in Brescia just 50 km to the north of Cremona. Maggini made violins on both a normal pattern (34.5–35.5 cm) and a slightly longer one (up to 36.9 cm). His long violins are highly praised for their deep sonority and textured lower register. We can only speculate, but perhaps Stradivari was reacting to the changing desires of the players of the day, or perhaps he was simply innovating to distinguish himself from his Cremonese contemporaries.
One thing that has always attracted my curiosity about the long pattern violins is the question of what would have happened if this experiment had carried on. During the 1690s Stradivari was also experimenting with the his cello model; eventually his ‘forma-B’, which had a slightly shorter back length than the 17th-century norm, would become the standard for cello making for the next 300 years. If Stradivari’s long pattern were to have continued into the 1700s, perhaps it would have changed the standard of violin length we use today.
Jason Price— Jason Price