A Massive Achievement

Amati_VA_1677_belly

Made in 1677, the ‘Romanov’ Nicolò Amati viola is one of the maker’s late masterpieces. Alberto Giordano and Rudolf Hopfner investigate its turbulent history and examine how it fits into the Amati family’s oeuvre

In 2018 an exhibition took place at the Venaria Reale palace near Turin. ‘Precious Instruments, Illustrious Names’, curated by Giovanni Accornero, featured many treasures including guitars, mandolins and bowed instruments, once played by such virtuosos as Pugnani, Paganini and Segovia. In this group of about 30 instruments, among which were a few made by the best Cremonese makers of the Golden Age, a viola by Nicolò Amati stood boldly in its glass case: an instrument of large dimensions and its own archaic charm, made in Cremona in 1677 when the luthier was aged 81.

Having dominated the string music scene for about a century, by then the large-size tenor viola was slowly going out of fashion. It was replaced by the smaller contralto viola, of which the first designer was probably Girolamo Amati I (1561–1630). The design of the ‘Romanov’ has a particular charm, coming as it does from the family’s lineage: the overall look is reminiscent of the tenor violas made about a century previously by Nicolò’s grandfather Andrea. The overall shape, the carving of the scroll and the design of the f-holes all suggest an archaic approach to the making of this instrument.

Read more in The Strad’s December 2019 issue…

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