The Stradivari Workshop, circa 1700

From many perspectives, but particularly the personal one, Antonio Stradivari found himself in a much different position at the opening of the eighteenth century than he had been only a few years earlier. In May of 1698, his wife of more than thirty years, Francesca Ferraboschi, died. The great maker was married again in August of the following year, to Antonia Zambelli Costa, who was perhaps twenty years his junior.

Stradivari and Zambelli had five children between 1701 and 1708. In fact, these five children were all younger than Stradivari’s own grandchildren, who had been born in the 1690s to Giulia Stradivari and her husband Giovanni Farina.

As for the routine in the Stradivari workshop, the eldest son Francesco, born in 1671, was certainly Antonio’s only consistent and regular collaborator, but he kept a rather low profile. While his second son, Alessandro (born in 1677), undertook a career in the priesthood, the place occupied by Antonio’s third son, Omobono (born in 1679), whether within the family structure or in the workshop’s functions, is much less clear.

For two or more years around 1696 Omobono undertook an extended journey of unknown purpose to distant Naples. After returning to Cremona, Omobono began to frequent the meetings of the governing body
of the neighborhood parish, on one occasion, in 1706, in place of Antonio.

Over the next thirty-five years Omobono is documented in an extraordinary variety of contexts. Among other things, he was an official of various charitable societies in Cremona, and he was the match-maker between a neighborhood pharmacist and the daughter of the celebrated violinist and composer Tomaso-Antonio Vitali, of Modena. He acted as debt collector for his father. In addition, Omobono remained a part of the hands-on routine of the workshop, as the various designs left from the Stradivari family attest.

While little is known of Antonio’s clientele during the early years of the 18th century, the Arisi manuscript alludes to some Spanish commissions Stradivari received in 1701-1703. More certain is that in Cremona after 1706, Stradivari knew, and worked for, one of the best-known violinists of the time, Gaspare Visconti, and/or for Visconti’s English wife Cristina, who played the viola da gamba.

The exact role of the Stradivari sons in the workshop’s production is still somewhat mysterious. Their father had trained Francesco and Omobono to do the immense amount of manual labor necessary to build the violins, violas, cellos and other instruments. Therefore it is extremely likely that the sons did the roughing out work.

As for the finished products of the sons, distinct from those of their father, a label with the phrase sotto la disciplina was applied to these. Count Cozio di Salabue, the famed collector of Stradivari violins, and of the relics of the Stradivari workshop, cataloged in his diaries some instruments with the sotto la disciplina label. The earliest of them was a violin dated 1696. Cozio also saw a 1698 cello with a similar label. Unfortunately, most of these labels have been lost or removed over the past two centuries, in an effort to “upgrade” them to the work of Antonio.

About Duane Rosengard

When not doing his ground-breaking research on the history of violins, the author is a bass player with the Philadelphia Orchestra. His latest book, a survey of the life and work of G.B. Guadagnini, is available through Amati Books.
This entry was posted in History, Makers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.