Antonio Stradivari (c.1644–1737) – or Stradivarius as he is also known – is the only maker of musical instruments whose name ranks alongside those of the great composers. While the details of his life are not as familiar as Vivaldi's or Mozart's, his name evokes the idea of a creative genius in the popular imagination. This exhibition will explore his life and work and will put on show twenty-one of the most important instruments in the world, some of which have never before been displayed in public.
Stradivarius will be the first major show devoted to the maker’s work ever to be held in the UK. The instruments on display will be the finest and most beautiful of their kind, many dating from Stradivari’s 'Golden Period' (1700–1720) when he was the height of his creative powers and making instruments that became the classic models on which later violins and cellos were based. Among the star items will be the ‘Viotti’ violin of 1709, which belonged at one time to the violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, who did more than anyone to establish the fame of Stradivari’s violins in the early-19th century. Also on display will be the ‘Batta-Piatigorsky’ cello of 1714, played by the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who wrote of the instrument in his autobiography, "it spurred me on to try to reach its depths, and I have never worked harder or desired anything more fervently than to draw out of this superior instrument all it has to give."
One gallery of the exhibition will show a recreation of Stradivari's workshop, displaying his original tools, wooden models and patterns, on loan from the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona. The displays will allow visitors to follow the creation of a violin from a log of spruce wood through to the finished instrument and to explore the techniques and artistry of violin-making. Recordings and interviews with leading musicians will give visitors the chance to hear Stradivari's instruments which are still being played. During the run of the exhibition, luthier workshops, performances and tours will offer people insights into the elements which have contributed to Stradivarius' immortal reputation.
Mr Charles Beare OBE, master craftsman and violin expert, says: "This exhibition is of supreme importance: Of the roughly seven hundred Stradivari instruments that survive, the twenty-one on show will be the very finest and best preserved examples. Led by the Ashmolean’s ‘Messiah’, the exhibition will be an inspiration to all violin enthusiasts, players, and makers world-wide."