Antonio Stradivari was an Italian luthier and a crafter of string instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars, violas and harps. Stradivari is generally considered the most significant and greatest artisan in this field. The Latinized form of his surname, Stradivarius, as well as the colloquial "Strad" are terms often used to refer to his instruments. It is estimated that Stradivari produced 1,116 instruments of which 960 were violins. Around 650 instruments survived, including 450 to 512 violins.
Antonio Stradivari's birthdate, presumably between 1644 and 1649, has been debated amongst historians due to the numerous inconsistencies in the evidence of the latter. The 1668 and 1678 censuses report him actually growing younger, a fact explained by the probable loss of statistics from 1647–49, when renewed belligerency between France's Modenese and Spain's Milanese proxies led to a flow of refugees that included Stradivari's mother.
Stradivari's ancestry consisted of notable citizens of Cremona, dating back to at least the 12th or 13th century. The earliest mention of the family name, or a variation upon it, is in a land grant dating from 1188. The origin of the name itself has several possible explanations; some sources say it is the plural of Stradivare, essentially meaning "toll-man" in Lombard, while others say that the form "de Strataverta" derives from Strada averta, which, in Cremonese dialect means "open road."
Antonio's parents were Alessandro Stradivari, son of Giulio Cesare Stradivari, and Anna Moroni, daughter of Leonardo Moroni. They married on 30 August 1622, and had at least three children between 1623 and 1628: Giuseppe Giulia Cesare, Carlo Felice, and Giovanni Battista. The baptismal records of the parish of S. Prospero then stop, and it is unknown whether they had any children from 1628 to 1644. This blank in the records may be due to the family leaving Cremona in response to war, famine, and plague in the city from 1628 to 1630, or the records may have been lost due to clerical reforms imposed by Joseph II of Austria in 1788. The latter explanation is supported by the word Cremonensis (of Cremona) on many of Stradivari's labels, which suggests that he was born in the city instead of merely moving back there to work. Antonio was born in 1644, a fact deducible from later violins. However, there are no records or information available on his early childhood, and the first evidence of his presence in Cremona is the label of his oldest surviving violin from 1666.
Stradivari likely began an apprenticeship with Nicola Amati between the ages of 12 and 14, although a minor debate surrounds this fact. One of the few pieces of evidence supporting this is the label of his 1666 violin, which reads, Alumnus Nicolai Amati, faciebat anno 1666. However, Stradivari did not repeatedly put Amati's name on his labels, unlike many of his other students. Stradivari's early violins actually bear less resemblance to those of Amati than his later instruments do. M. Chanot-Chardon, a well-known French luthier, asserted that his father had a label of Stradivari's stating, "Made at the age of thirteen, in the workshop of Nicolò Amati". This label has never been found or confirmed. Amati would also have been a logical choice for Antonio's parents, as he represented an old family of violin makers in Cremona, and was far superior to most other luthiers in Italy.
An alternative theory is that Stradivari started out as a woodworker: the house he lived in from 1667 to 1680 was owned by Francesco Pescaroli, a woodcarver and inlayer. Stradivari may even have been employed to decorate some of Amati's instruments, without being a true apprentice. This theory is supported by some of Stradivari's later violins, which have elaborate decorations and purfling.
Assuming that Stradivari was a student of Amati, he would have begun his apprenticeship in 1656–58 and produced his first decent instruments in 1660, at the age of 16. His first labels were printed from 1660 to 1665, which indicates that his work had sufficient quality to be offered directly to his patrons. However, he probably stayed in Amati's workshop until about 1684, using his master's reputation as a launching point for his career.
Stradivari married his first wife, Francesca Ferraboschi, on 4 July 1667. Francesca was the young widow of the burgher Giacomo Capra, with whom she had two children. Francesca's brother had shot Giacomo with a crossbow on the Piazza Garibaldi (formerly the Piazza Santa Agata) in 1664. He was later exiled, though allowed to return to Cremona many years later. After their marriage, Stradivari moved into a house known as the Casa del Pescatore, or the Casa Nuziale, in his wife's parish. A clue to how they would have met lies in the 1659 Easter census, which lists the Ferraboschi family four houses away from the Amati residence. The couple had a daughter, Giulia Maria, three to four months later. They remained in the house until 1680, during which time they had four more children: Catterina, Francesco, Alessandro, and Omobono Stradivari, as well as an infant son who lived for only a week. It is to be noted that an age difference of four to nine years was uncommon between wedded couples at the time.
Stradivari purchased a house now known as No. 1 Piazza Roma (formerly No. 2 Piazza San Domenico) around 1680 for the sum of 7000 lire, 2000 of which he paid at the time of the purchase. The totality of the house was paid for by 1684. The residence was just doors away from those of several other violin making families of Cremona, including the Amatis and Guarneris. Stradivari probably worked in the loft and attic, and he stayed in this house for the rest of his life.
Stradivari's wife Francesca died on 20 May 1698, and received an elaborate funeral five days later.
Stradivari married his second wife, Antonia Maria Zambelli, on 24 August 1699. The only information known about her is that she was 35 at the time of the marriage. They had five children from 1700 to 1708—Francesca Maria, Giovanni Battista Giuseppe, Giovanni Battista Martino, Giuseppe Antonio, and Paolo.
Stradivari died on 18 December 1737, aged 93. He is buried in the Church of San Domenico. The tomb was acquired 8 years prior to his death, having been bought from a Cremonese family, substituting their name for his in the tombstone.
Children with Francesca: Gulia Maria Stradivari, Catterina Stradivari, Francesco Stradivari, Alessandro Stradivari, Omobono Stradivari
Children with Antoina: Francesca Maria Stradivari, Giovanni Battista Giuseppe Stradivari, Giovanni Battista Martino Stradivari, Giuseppe Antonio Stradivari, Paolo Stradivari
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