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Virtual Tour of
"Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna:
Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance
1789-1848"


The King Violoncello by Andrea Amati, after 1538

Front view of pegbox and scroll Soundholes and bridge Lower treble rib Lower bass rib Upper treble rib Upper bass rib Lower end Front upper bass corner Front lower bass corner Front lower treble corner Front upper treble corner Back view of pegbox and scroll Upper back Center of back Lower back

NMM 3351. Violoncello, The King, by Andrea Amati, Cremona, after 1538. Witten-Rawlins Collection, 1984.   Note: Click on any structural area of the instrument to see a close-up of that area.

It was in the workshop of Andrea Amati in Cremona in the middle of the 16th century that the form of the instruments of the violin family as we know them today first crystallized. The King, as it is now called, is the earliest bass instrument of the violin family known to survive, built perhaps as early as 1538, originally with only three strings. In 1560, it was painted to serve as one of a set of 38 stringed instruments built by Andrea Amati that were painted and gilded for the French court of King Charles IX (d. 1574) - his mother was Catherine de' Medici, a member of the Italian family that directed the destiny of Florence (and, after 1569, of Tuscany) from the fifteenth century to 1737 - with the King's emblems and mottoes. The set was used until it was dispersed during the French Revolution (1789). Only a few instruments from the set have survived.

Painting on Back of 'Cello

Crown fragment Column fragment Putti fragment Upper bass corner Upper treble corner Crown in center of back Fleurs-de-lis fragment Chain surrounding fleurs-de-lis fragment Lower bass corner Lower treble corner Figure of woman representing 'Justice' Putti holding crown Column with putti Crown and fragment of letter, 'K' Fragment of Piety figure Fragment of Piety's foot

Note: Click on any painted area of the back to see a close-up of that area.

The King was cut down in size--looking closely at the paintings on the back, one can see that wood was removed down the center, leaving the woman, representing "Justice," without a waist or left arm--and "modernized" by Sébastian Renault, a Parisian luthier, in 1801.

Bass Side of 'Cello

Upper bass rib Center bass rib Lower bass rib Lower end Bass side of pegbox/scroll
Note: Click on any area of the bass side of the cello to see a close-up of that area.

The letters on the bass side spell the word, "PIETATE" (Latin for piety). The letter, "K," in the center rib stands for "Karolus" (King Charles IX of France).

The cello's neck was replaced in 1801, but the original scroll and pegbox were kept, retaining not only the original decoration, but also preserving the evidence that the instrument once had only three strings.

Treble Side of 'Cello

Lower treble rib Center treble rib Upper treble rib Treble side of pegbox and scroll Lower end of cello

Note: Click on any area of the treble side of the cello to see a close-up of that area.

The letters on the treble side spell the word "IVSTICIA" (or "JUSTICIA," Latin for justice). The letter, "K," in the center rib stands for "Karolus" (King Charles IX of France).

The King was exhibited in London in 1872 and 1904, New York in 1968, and Cremona in 1982. According to Charles Beare, the prominent London violin expert who heard the 'cello played in 1982, "I think the sound that came out of that instrument was perhaps the greatest 'cello sound I have ever heard outside of one or two of the great Strad 'cellos."

Click here to access an index of all available digital images of this instrument.


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Exhibition catalog and poster available from Gift Shop

Postcard of painted back of The King cello available from Gift Shop

Technical drawing of The King cello available from the Gift Shop

Consult the Luthier's Library for additional measurements and photos


Related Links

Individual Instruments

NMM 3366. Violin by Andrea Amati, Cremona, ca. 1560

NMM 3370. Viola by Andrea Amati, Cremona, ca. 1560

NMM 5260. Violin by Andrea Amati, Cremona, 1574

Comparative Views

Comparison of the Front and Back Views of Four Andrea Amati instruments

Comparison of the Treble and Bass Sides of Four Andrea Amati instruments

Comparison of the Soundholes of Four Andrea Amati instruments

Comparison of the Pegbox/Scroll Views of Four Andrea Amati instruments

Checklists

Checklist of Bowed Stringed Instruments by Andrea Amati, Cremona

Checklist of Bowed Stringed Instruments Made Before 1800

Checklist of 16th- and 17th-Century Instruments

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Most recent update: February 26, 2014

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