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The 10 most precious violins in the world
The violin is a fascinating instrument full of secrets that are hidden not only in their woods, in the sound box and in the parts that compose it or in the expert hands of the luthiers who have built them with dedication and talent.

The violin fascinates and inspires the musicians when they guide the bow on the strings, and enchants the audience with its magical sound.

Among the finest violins in the world there are those built by the famous Cremonese violin makers Antonio Stradivari (Cremona 1644 - 1737) and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (Cremona 1698 - 1744).

Among them, here is the list of the ten most expensive and sought-after tools:

Cremona, Museum of the Violin, Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)

The Stradivari Molitor - 2.7 million euros

The Stradivari Molitor is an ancient violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1697, at the beginning of the so-called 'golden period' of the Cremonese master. It bears the label “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis / Faciebat Anno 1697”.

It is thought to have belonged to Napoleon, and owes its name to the French general Count Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor, in whose family it remained until the First World War. It changed owners, and auctioned off in 2010, reaching a record € 2.7 million, then the highest amount ever paid for a musical instrument.

For the fictional history of this instrument, see our in-depth study: the-extraordinary-story-of-an-ancient-violin-the-stradivari-molitor

The Ex-Szigeti Stradivarius - 4.3 million euros

The 'ex Szigeti' Stradivari violin dates back to 1724. It owes its name to the famous Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti (Budapest 1892 - Lucerne 1973), who owned it until 1940. It is also known as 'Ludwig', from the name of the first known owner, Joseph Ludwig. The violin bears the original label “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis faciebat Anno 1724”. It has been owned by the L-Bank Baden Württemberg since 1989 and is on loan to young musicians with a career in the making. The value is approximately 4.3 million euros.

The Stradivarius 'Delfino' – 4.3 million euros

The 1714 'Delfino' Stradivarius is also part of the list of the finest violins in the world. It is estimated at around 4 million euros and is currently owned by the Nippon Music Foundation, which bought it in 2000. Until 2019 it was played by violinist Akiko Suwanei. Among the most famous owners, the famous violinist Jascha Heifetz (Vilnius 1901 - Los Angeles 1987), who took possession of it in 1950.

The name by which it is still known today, was given to it by George Hart, a violin dealer in London, who owned the precious instrument in the late 1860s. The back of the violin, with its particular shape and its shimmering and changing colors reminded him of a dolphin, and has been called the 'Stradivari Dolphin' ever since.

The Stradivari La Pucelle - 4.3 million euros

Another very precious violin that came out of Antonio Stradivari's hands is the instrument known as 'La Pucelle' ('Virgin', 'Maiden') from 1709, also worth around 4 million euros.

It owes its name to the famous French luthier and merchant Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (Mirecourt 1798 - Paris 1875), one of the best and most influential instrument makers of the nineteenth century. Born into a family of luthiers, more than 3,000 instruments came out of his Parisian workshop renowned throughout Europe. When around the middle of the century he examined the precious violin, disassembling it to analyze it and to verify the possible need for maintenance, he realized with amazement that the instrument was completely intact even in the internal parts, with the chain, the core and all the constructive elements intact, as they had come out of Stradivari's laboratory. Enthusiastic about the discovery he exclaimed, “C'e come une pucelle!”, (“It's like a virgin”!), And this has always been the name of the violin ever since. To underline its integrity, Vuillaume worked the tailpiece of the instrument by carving the image of Joan of Arc, the virgin warrior known as 'La Pucelle d'Orléans'.

The violin has changed many owners, including the extravagant American heiress Huguette Clark (1906 - 2011), who received it as a gift from her mother Anna on her 50th birthday in June 1956. Clark sold the violin in 2001 with a clause contractual which obliged the buyer to keep the seller's identity concealed for a period of ten years. Currently 'La Pucelle' belongs to the American collector, violinist, computer scientist and entrepreneur David L. Fulton, who defines it as one of the most beautiful objects in his collection and considers it the best Stradivarius in the United States in private hands. Fulton owns an extraordinary collection of ancient Cremonese instruments (Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù, Amati, Gasparo da Salò and others) and has produced several award-winning documentaries on violins and music. (Interesting news about David Fulton, his collection and the La Pucelle violin in the Seattle Times article, see archive.seattletimes.com

The Guarneri 'Lord Wilton' – 4.3 million euros

The 'Lord Wilton' is also worth over 4 million euros, a violin also built in Cremona by Guarneri del Gesù in 1742. It takes its name from Seymore Egerton, 4th Earl of Wilton, to whom the ancient violin belonged in the second half of 800. Lord Wilton, a friend and friend of the composer Arthur Sullivan, was defined by him as the best non-professional violinist in all of England.

The instrument in the various changes of ownership also arrived in the hands of some well-known artists, including the poetess and violinist Lady Leonora Speyer (1872 - 1956), whose husband Sir Edgar bought it in 1902, the Croatian violinist Zlatko Balokovic (1895 - 1965), who played it and had it for about ten years starting from 1952, and finally the famous Yehudi Menuhin, to whom the precious violin belonged from 1978 to 1999.

The 'Lord Wilton' was purchased in 2019 by noted collector David L. Fulton (see above) for $ 6 million.

The Guarneri 'Mary Portman' - € 7.3 million

Another Guarneri del Gesu, the violin known as 'Mary Portman', made in 1735. It belonged to one of the greatest violinists in history, Fritz Kreisler (Vienna 1875 - New York 1962), the instrument is however indicated with the name of Mary Portman, enterprising English aristocrat, musician and one of the first female drivers.

Mary Isabel Portman (London 1877 - Montreux 1931), although not pursuing a professional career, was an excellent violinist and during her life she possessed three very precious instruments.

In London he had studied with August Wilhelmj (1845 - 1908), a very famous violinist who had performed in all major European cities and had toured with great success in North and South America, Asia and Australia in the years 1878 - 1882. Wilhelmj was He was also called by Wagner in Bayreuth as first violin and concertmaster for the installations of 1875.

The English noblewoman moved to Berlin to complete her training in 1908, and took leave of her teacher by giving him one of the three precious violins that belonged to her over the years, a 1722 Stradivarius given to her for her 21st birthday.

The other two instruments were both by Guarneri del Gesù, one dated 1738, previously belonging to the Norwegian virtuoso Ole Bull, and the other from 1735, coming from the estate of Fritz Kreisler, later known as 'Mary Portman'. The latter instrument came by bequest to the pianist Amy Hare, a longtime friend of Portman, and today belongs to the foundation of collectors and philanthropists Clement and Karen Arrison of Buffalo. Through the Stradivari Society of Chicago, the precious Guarneri del Gesù is granted in use to the Spanish violinist Francisco Fullana.

The Guarneri Ex-Kochanski - € 7.3 million

This violin is considered one of the best Guarneri del Gesù - it dates back to the last and very high quality period of activity of the Cremonese master, 1740 -1744.

The name that identifies the instrument comes from the Polish virtuoso Paul Kochanski (1887 - 1934). Born in Odessa, he settled permanently in New York in 1924. He met Arthur Rubinstein and from 1907 they started playing together; he had an intense artistic collaboration with the composer Karol Szymanowski, and many other composers dedicated or wrote pieces specifically for him, including Bax, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Stravinskij.

Kochanski bought the violin he would later give his name to in 1927 and played it all his life. In 1958 the instrument was bought by another famous artist, the American violinist Aaron Rosand (1927 - 2019), who had it for about fifty years. Thanks to the numerous concerts and many recordings made by Rosand, the particular sound of this violin is well known and much appreciated.

The instrument, now also called Guarneri 'Ex Rosand', was sold to an unidentified Russian billionaire in 2009 for around € 7.3 million.

The Stradivarius Lady Blunt - 11.6 million euros

The Lady Blunt is a violin built by Antonio Stradivari in 1721. It owes its name to one of the first owners, Lady Anne Blunt, daughter of mathematician Ada Lovelace and grandson of Lord Byron. With the so-called 'Messia' it is among the best preserved violins by Stradivari since like the latter, for a large part of its existence it was in the hands of collectors and was played very little.

The traceable history of the instrument begins in the mid-nineteenth century with Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, the famous Parisian luthier and merchant, who seems to have bought it in Spain in 1860. Vuillaume made the tailpiece and inlaid pegs still preserved, and four years later he sold the violin to Lady Anne Blunt for 260 pounds of silver.

Lady Anne Blunt (1837 - 1917) 15th Baroness Wentworth, is a remarkable figure: traveler, talented horseman, gifted artist who had studied painting with John Ruskin, and skilled violinist so much that she was a pupil of the great Joseph Joachim. She was fluent in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Arabic, traveled extensively in the Middle East and was the first European woman to cross the desert of the Arabian Peninsula. Together with her husband Wilfrid Scawen Blunt she founded the Crabbet Arabian Stud stable, from which to this day most of the thoroughbred horses descend.

Lady Anne bought the violin that still bears her name at the suggestion of her teacher Leopold Jansa (1795 - 1875) and jealously guarded it for thirty years before selling it in 1895 to the German merchant Edler.

Later the instrument changed many owners, mainly collectors, repeatedly passing through the London firm Hill. The 'Lady Blunt' set several sales records in musical instrument auctions: in 1971 Sotheby's sold it for the then record amount of 84,000 pounds, while in 2008 it totaled over $ 10 million in a private transaction. To buy it, the Nippon Music Foundation, which in turn put it up for auction in 2011 through Tarisio Auctions, in order to raise funds for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in that year, establishing a new record sales with 9.8 million pounds. The 'Lady Blunt'

it is thus the third most expensive violin in the world, after the Guarneri Vieuxtemps and the Stradivari Messia (see below). The current owner is unknown.

One of the few violinists who has had the opportunity to play this magnificent instrument is Yehudi Menuhin, called to highlight its sound qualities at the Sotheby's auction in 1971. (https://youtu.be/zRNS_ebpi7o)

The Guarneri Vieuxtemps - over 11.6 million euros

The Guarneri 'Vieuxtemps', currently the second most expensive violin in the world, is the work of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù and is dated 1741. It therefore belongs to the last period of activity of the famous Cremonese luthier, a period to which his best instruments date back.

It takes its name from the great Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps (Verviers 1820 - Algiers 1881), who had it for about twenty years, from around 1860 until his death. Vieuxtemps was so attached to the instrument that he wanted it at his funeral, and in fact his pupil Eugene Ysaÿe, also destined for fame, paraded in the leading group of the funeral procession carrying his beloved violin.

Eugene Ysaÿe (Liège 1858 - Brussels 1931), violinist and composer, known for his powerful and original sound and for his masterful 'rubato', was the dedicatee of many works by the most eminent composers of the time, among them Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck and Ernest Chausson. For a short time he borrowed his master's Guarneri, but unfortunately he could not buy it. A few years later the British violinist Philip Newman (Manchester 1904 - Mallorca 1966), the artist who had played for Ysaÿe on his deathbed, came into possession.

Subsequently, the valuable violin was purchased by the British banker, musician and philanthropist Sir Ian Isaac Stoutzker, in whose case it remained for fifty years. Friend of Yehudi Menuhin, he made the instrument available to him for some concerts. In a letter the famous musician wrote to him “If I had to save a single violin from a fire, rather than take my Stradivarius, I would rush to recover the Vieuxtemps”.

In 2013 the admirable instrument was sold to an anonymous buyer for an unknown amount, but still higher than the sum paid for the 'Lady Blunt', thus setting a new record.

The anonymous patron has granted the instrument in exclusive use for life to the American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who says of the incomparable violin “it is like feeling the sky and the earth together”.

The Stradivarius 'Messiah' - priceless

The 'Messia' (also known as Stradivari Messia-Salabue), considered by many to be the most valuable violin in the world, was built in 1716 by Antonio Stradivari, and belongs to the so-called golden period (1700-1725) of the Cremonese violin maker . With the 'Lady Blunt' it is one of Stradivari's best-preserved violins, which has come to us in perfect condition, as if it had just come out of the Maestro's workshop. The excellent conservation is mainly due to the fact that the violin in the three centuries of its existence was treated as a collector's violin, and played only on very rare occasions.

On the death of Antonio Stradivari in 1737, the violin was still in the workshop. It passed to the sons, to be then purchased around 1775 by Count Ignazio Alessandro Cozio di Salabue together with nine other tools and all the work tools, becoming part of his rich collection in the Castle of Casale Monferrato.

The count of Salabue (1755 - 1840), the first great connoisseur and collector of instruments of which we know

he noted in his writings the text of the label and the characteristics of the instrument: intact, with a beautiful sound, round but strong, worked with extreme skill in every detail. In 1827 he sold the violin, together with other pieces of his collection, to Luigi Tarisio (1796 - 1854), cabinetmaker and restorer from Novara, who became a trader and collector of instruments and also known by the nickname of 'violin hunter'.

Tarisio was in fact constantly looking for instruments, to sell them in Paris or London. And just in Paris there was the exchange of words that gave the name to the violin: Tarisio used to magnify one of his particular instruments, an intact Stradivarius that he jealously guarded and never showed, a violin that he said was possible "to admire only in knee ', it was so perfect. Finding himself talking about it in the workshop of the most important luthier in Paris, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, his son-in-law was also present, the great violinist Jean-Delphin Alard, who at a certain point the apostrophe, "But in short, Monsieur Tarisio, your violin is like the Messiah of the Jews, he always expects him but never appears ”. Since then the violin has always been called the 'Messiah'.

On Tarisio's death in 1854, Vuillaume left for Italy in search of his instruments, and was able to find the most precious of them, including the 'Messiah' in the small town of Fontaneto d'Agogna in the province of Novara, a town in origin of the trader. He bought them together with a large number of other pieces found in the modest home of Tarisio in Milan, making the most colossal deal of his life. Vuillaume, however, never sold the 'Messiah', nor did he allow anyone to play it. The instrument passed as an inheritance to the daughters and son-in-law violinist Alard, and after several changes of ownership it was bought by Hill & Sons of London, famous luthiers, collectors and merchants of string instruments.

In 1939 it was donated by them to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to be preserved as a "model from which future luthiers can learn". The conservation clause requires that the instrument is never played and that it does not leave the Museum. And so the 'Messiah', the most precious violin in the world, continues ineffably to be silent. 

Cremona Violin Museum

See also

Guarneri 'Baltic' Violin Sold At Auction For $9.44 Million

An extraordinary violin, created by the famous luthier Giuseppe 'del Gesù' Guarneri in 1731, fetched a staggering $9.44 million (€8.75 million) at auction in the United States.

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