World’s Earliest Known Cello on Summer Loan to Met Museum

National Music Museum, Andrea Amati ‘King’ cello (mid-1500s). Courtesy of the National Music Museum

June 11—September 8, 2015

Location: The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, Gallery 684 

(New York, June 8, 2015)—The Amati “King” cello, one of the world’s most renowned musical instruments and the earliest surviving bass instrument of the violin family, will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning June 11. Built in the mid-16th century by Andrea Amati (ca. 1505-1577), the founding master of the great violin-making tradition in Cremona, Italy, it is on special loan to the Met from the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

The “King” cello’s name refers to its royal commissioning. One of a set of 38 stringed instruments made for the Valois court, it is painted and gilded with the royal emblems and mottoes of King Charles IX of France (d. 1574), son of Catherine de’ Medici. Gilded letters spell the word “PIETATE” (“piety”) on the bass side and “IVSTICIA” (“justice”) on the treble side of the instrument. The letter “K” in the center rib signifies “Karolus,” or Charles IX. 

At the Metropolitan Museum, the cello is the centerpiece of an installation that honors the innovative craftsmanship of Andrea Amati, his sons, and grandsons, who directly influenced the work of Antonio Stradivari and other renowned stringed-instrument makers. On view with the “King” cello are two additional instruments by Andrea Amati: an early viola on loan from the Sau-Wing Lam Collection and a violin from ca. 1560 from the Met’s collection. The gallery also features instruments created by Amati’s son and grandson, members of the Guarneri family, and Antonio Stradivari.



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