Viola by Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1696, 'Archinto'

Object type
Bequeathed by John Rutson Esq, 1890.
Rutson Bequest
Stringed instrument: Viola by Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1696, 'Archinto'

During Stradivari's long and productive life he made relatively few violas, and only ten complete instruments still exist. For elegance and grandeur, and in view of its remarkable state of preservation, the "Archinto" of 1696 is arguably the best example known.

The instrument's long and slender corners, delicate edges and broad, precise purfling show the master still looking to the work of Nicolo Amati for inspiration. However, the relationship between the upper and lower bouts and the roundness of the shoulders have much in common with the "Long Pattern" violins of the 1690s.

The cut of the soundholes is particularly striking; they are modestly proportioned and sit well on the fine-grained belly wood. The lower parts of the soundholes are delightfully accentuated by the straight and well-defined sculpting of the lower wing, while the purflings are beautifully flowing and of an even thickness, with extremely long and perfectly formed mitres. The delicate fluting is met with a crisp edge chamfer which remains sharp and clear.

Looking from the sides, the ribs seem relatively low and give a shallow appearance to the viola. The ribs measure substantially less than other extant Stradivari violas, and have probably been reduced at some point in the instrument's history. However, this is more than compensated by the beautifully rounded arching which is of relatively full height. The instrument was examined by Count Cozio di Salibue (1755-1840), the violin collector, expert and author of Il Carteggio, his memoirs of the 19th-century violin trade. Di Salibue's opinion was that the unusual lowness of the ribs may have had a restricting effect on the tone. However, with its current set-up the instrument has a warm, sonorous and penetrating sound.

In common with most Stradivari violas the head has been fashioned with a cello-type pegbox which provides both practical and generous dimensions.

From the side are revealed the perfectly rounded turns of the scroll, carved with superb precision, the volutes progressively deepening from the first turns and on toward the eyes. Looked at from the front, the head appears symmetrical and harmonious. The flutings around the back of the pegbox are almost semi-circular in cross section, but as the channels approach the front they become characteristically flat at the bottom with steep sides, while the central spine continues unwavering to the extreme limit of the throat. This scroll also shows the first appearance of blackened chamfers, a device originated by Stradivari in this period to emphasise the bold lines of the scroll design, and a natural progression from the broader chamfers which differentiate his work most clearly from that of Nicolo Amati.

The one-piece back is of dramatically figured quartered maple. The ribs are from the same log, with a tighter figure. Here the bottom ribs remain uncut, typically formed in one continuous piece.

The varnish is breathtaking, and nearly all the highly transparent top coat remains intact. Light is reflected in an astonishing manner, displaying the superb dichroic qualities of Stradivari's varnish. The colour alters from bright gold-yellow to deep orange and red-brown as one looks across the surface. In some areas of the back where wear has occurred a highly refractive gold-coloured ground is revealed.
Date made
The viola was sold in about 1800 by Count Carlo Gambara of Brescia to Count Archinto of Milan, who also owned a Stradivari cello of 1689 and two violins. Archinto's instruments were all purchased by J B Vuillaume in about 1860. The viola subsequently came to England where it was acquired by Rutson. Among the distinguished musicians to have performed on the 'Archinto' are Watson Forbes, Roger Bigley, Paul Silverthorne, Bruno Giuranna and Yuri Bashmet.

In 2004 Maxim Vengerov won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist for his recording on the instrument of the Viola Concerto by Sir William Walton.
woodwork, abbey, stringed instrument, Cremonese, Italian
maple, spruce, ebony
Object type
Type Length Width Height Diameter Unit (length)
Stop 223 mm
Neck 148 mm
Back 414 mm
Upper Bout 184 mm
Middle Bout 125 mm
Lower Bout 241 mm
Back (with caliper) 413.5 mm
Upper Bout (with caliper) 183 mm
Middle Bout (with caliper) 124.2 mm
Lower Bout (with caliper) 240 mm
Total String Length 374.5 mm
Accession No


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