Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Stolen Stradivarius

There are several documented stories of stolen Stradivarius violins, but one of the most interesting was reported in the New York Times in 1996.
The violin thief, sitting in jail for having assaulted a child, told his wife to get his violin from a friend, and read the paper inside. She did, and it was an article about a Polish violinist whose Stradivarius violin had been taken from his Carnegie Hall dressing room while he performed on another instrument. The thief’s wife asked if that was the stolen violin. He said it was, but that he had bought it for $100. Later, he confessed to having stolen it himself. He had frequented the entrance doors of the concert hall, and made friends with the doormen by offering to take their place while they went for a smoke. He told his wife that his mother had taught him how to hide a violin in his coat, and that she had always wanted him to be a famous violinist.
When the thief died, his wife returned the violin to Lloyd’s of London and received a finder’s fee of $263,000 dollars.
The thief’s daughter, by his first marriage, was heir to her father’s estate. She sued the thief’s wife and won in court. The judge agreed that the finder’s fee should have been part of the estate.
By that time, the wife was living in a trailer and had spent all the money. She paid her attorney 10% for negotiating the finder’s fee. The rest was given to her family and the IRS.
Lloyd’s sold it for $1.2 million in 1988, and more recently, Joshua Bell, the violinist who made the soundtrack for The Red Violin, paid $4 million for the treasured Stradivarius violin that had seen so many owners.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stradivarius Violins

Antonio Stradivari was born in Cremona, Italy, sometime around 1644, but the exact date of his birth is unknown. His life spanned two centuries, and he died in 1737.
Antonio was an Italian luthier, a craftsman of stringed instruments. He also made violas, cellos, and at least one harp. The Latin form of his name, Stradivarius, refers to his violins. Antonio had six children by his first wife, and five by his second. His sons worked in the shop, and some of the signed Stradivarius violins are probably signed by his sons.
Antonio Stradivari may have studied under Amati, whose violins were highly prized during that time, more so than Antonio’s. The Stradivari alterations to the Amati models were what brought fame to Stradivari. He changed the arch, varied the thickness of the wood, and used more highly colored varnish, as well as other modifications.
Over the years, as his violins became prized, they were hidden, stolen, and sold, increasing in value with each passing decade.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tapestry in Medici Florence

It is difficult to think of Renaissance art in Italy without the d’Medici family name coming to mind. In 15th century Florence, Cosimo d’Medici’s patronage of the arts supported the work of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and others. Less celebrated are the Florentine tapestries. The Medici family supported tapestry workshops that thrived within the city. Tapestries were in demand to decorate the halls of new buildings as well as the palace itself.
The Florentine cartoonists (artists who designed the compositions that were translated into the tapestries) joined in the spirit of the times, leaving behind the sacred, and embracing all that was vibrant and alive in Florence. One of these men, Giovanni Stradano, a painter and engraver familiar with the methods used in the production of tapestries in Flanders, moved to Florence in 1545 and worked at the Medici court.
The picture illustrates the Giostra del Saracino, a type of jousting tournament which was once very popular among the citizens, being held in front of Palazzo Medici. Via Larga, in which the palazzo stands, is shown from the north looking towards Piazza Duomo. From the foreground, moving backwards we can see the Medici residence, with the houses annexed in the fifteenth century on the right, followed by the church of San Giovannino.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter in France begins with Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), a part of Carnival. Because of France’s strong Catholic tradition, their calendar observes the same days that Catholic churches all over the world do: Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday leading up to Easter.
Most Americans associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, but the first Carnival was celebrated in Nice, France. Carnival in France lasts for two weeks, with parades, fireworks, and masked balls.
Since the 12th century, all the bells in France are silenced on the Thursday before Good Friday. Most villages and cities in France have at least one church with a bell, like this cathedral in Arras, France. French children all know that the bells have departed for Rome. On Easter, the bells (les cloches de Paques) return, bringing with them Easter eggs and chocolate. The bells drop the treats along the way as they pass through the skies, making their way back to their belfries.
Another tradition, happening around April 1, is Poisson d’Avril. On this day, children make paper fish and stick them on the backs of unsuspecting adults.