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Amati Cello, The King

c. 1550

National Music Museum, University of South Dakota

National Music Museum, University of South Dakota

It was in the workshop of Andrea Amati (ca. 1505-1577) in Cremona, Italy, 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now called, is the earliest bass instrument of the violin family known to survive (the world's oldest surviving cello), originally made with only three strings. About 1560, it was decorated 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.About 1560, the back of the Andrea Amati cello, The King, was painted and gilded as one of a set of 38 stringed instruments built by Amati for the French court of King Charles IX (d.1574) of France. The cello's body was cut down in size and modernized by Sebastian Renault, a Parisian luthier, in 1801. This is evident by looking closely at the paintings on the back where wood was removed: the figure of Justice, for example, is missing its waist and left arm; the banners around the columns are no longer continuous in their wrapping; the central coat-of-arms is distorted, as are the crowns at the upper and lower ends of the back.

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