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King Henry IV's Amati Violin Joins NMM's Crown Jewels

by Arian Sheets, Curator of Stringed Instruments

A violin by Antonio and Girolamo Amati (Cremona, ca. 1595), bearing the armorials of King Henry IV of Navarre and France (1553-1610), was presented to the NMM on May 14, 2010, by Kevin Schieffer (Sioux Falls), a member of the NMM Board of Trustees. The presentation ceremony, attended by representatives of the NMM Board of Trustees and NMM staff, coincided with the 400th anniversary of the assassination of the popular French king. It marked the culmination of a long and tumultuous historical journey made by the beautifully painted instrument.

Right: Kevin Schieffer (right) presents The King Henry IV violin to André P. Larson (left), Director, who accepted the royal instrument on behalf of the NMM.

Kevin Schieffer presents the King Henry IV violin to Andre P. Larson


The Violin's Provenance

The early history of the violin is outlined in a Latin inscription found on the interior of the instrument, added during a restoration by the esteemed French luthier Charles François Gand (1787-1845) for its then-owner, Jean-Baptiste Cartier (1765-1841), the famous French violin virtuoso and first violin professor of the Paris Conservatoire. Cartier was also an avid violin collector who regarded the instrument one of his prized possessions and decided to record its history for posterity. The inscription, translated into English (below), documents the passage of the violin from the court of the French king into the hands of a French courtier, François de Bassompierre (1579-1646).

Girolamo Amati made [this violin] for the Chapel of Henry IV in the year 1595. His most distinguished pupils painted [it]. Marshal Bassompierre obtained [it], whose house[hold] kept it for two hundred years. Finally, J. B. Cartier sought it from the Chapel of King Louis XVIII, of whose Academy he is first violinist. The same [Cartier] has brought it to Charles [Francois] Gand, pupil of [violin] maker Nicholas Lupot, in Paris, for the purpose of repairing [it].

The violin subsequently passed into the hands of George Hart (1839-1891), the London violin dealer and author. Hart sold the instrument to Royal de Forest Hawley (1834-1893), owner of an agricultural supply business in Hartford, Connecticut, and an early American collector of fine violins. The violin was then acquired by Albert H. Pitkin (1852-1917), the descendent of a distinguished founding family of Hartford. Following Pitkin’s death, the violin was sold to Lyon & Healy, the Chicago harp makers and violin dealers, who held the instrument until Edmund Bukolt (1898-1965), an inventor and businessman from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, purchased it in 1942. Bukolt, who was deeply involved in the leadership of his Catholic and Polish community, eventually transferred ownership of his prized violin to the nascent Copernicus Cultural Foundation. This Foundation, devoted to Polish culture and the arts, loaned the instrument to prominent musicians for several years. However, due to the fragile state of the original painting, the instrument was retired from regular use more than ten years ago. When the Copernicus Foundation decided that it was time to pass the violin on to a new owner, Kevin Schieffer and his family embraced the opportunity to celebrate the birth of their son, Alexander (on May 4, 2010), by providing the funding necessary to ensure that The King Henry IV Amati violin would be enjoyed in perpetuity by the thousands of yearly visitors to the NMM. The acquisition of the instrument was facilitated by Claire Givens, NMM trustee and President of Claire Givens Violins (Minneapolis). The extensive research conducted by Givens and Andrew Dipper into the history of The King Henry IV violin is the subject of a forthcoming article in The Strad.


Violin, The King Henry IV, by Antonio and Girolamo Amati, Cremona, ca. 1595


NMM 14470.  Violin, The King Henry IV, by Antonio and Girolamo Amati, Cremona, ca. 1595 Bass side of violin Treble side of violin Back of violin

NMM 14470. Violin, The King Henry IV, by Antonio and Girolamo Amati, Cremona, ca. 1595. Ex colls.: King Henry IV, France; François de Bassompierre and family, France; King Louis XVIII, France; Jean-Baptiste Cartier, Paris; George Hart, London; Royal de Forest Hawley, Hartford, Connecticut; Albert Hastings Pitkin, Hartford; Lyon & Healy, Chicago; Edmund V. Bukolt, Stevens Point, Wisconsin; The Copernicus Cultural Foundation, Chicago. Purchase funds gift of Kevin Schieffer, Sioux Falls, 2010.

Painting on back

The violin bears painting which is remarkably similar in technique to that found on The King cello by Andrea Amati, painted for one of Henry IV’s predecessors, Charles IX. The original decoration on The King Henry IV, found on the sides, back, and scroll of the violin, is remarkable for its thick application of translucent blue and red pigment layered over gold, which lends a jewel-like quality to the central armorials and two flanking H's on the back. The armorials are an amalgam of significant noble devices, including the conjoined arms of France and Navarre, as well as the medallion of the Order of Saint-Michel, and the collar of the Order of Saint-Esprit. The sides of the violin feature the gold-painted Latin motto HENRICUS • IV • DEI GRAT • FRANC ET • NAV • REX, which can be translated as "Henry, by the Grace of God, King of France and Navarre."

The King Henry IV Amati joins the NMM’s eight other Amati-family instruments, including three others with noble provenances by Andrea Amati, the earliest documented violin maker in Cremona (NMM 3351, NMM 3366, and NMM 3370). A detailed technical drawing of The King Henry IV, prepared by Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, Conservation Research Assistant, is available for purchase through the NMM Gift Shop.

The royal violin, along with its 18th-century case made during the reign of Louis XVI, were placed on permanent display in the NMM's first floor hallway and unveiled on September 24, 2010, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the requiem mass held for Henry IV in the Medici family church of San Lorenzo, in Florence, Italy, on September 16, 1610.


Eunho Kim plays The King Henry IV violin at presentation ceremony, May 14, 2010

Eunho Kim, USD Assistant Professor of Music and member of the Rawlins Trio, played The King Henry IV violin at the presentation ceremony held in the Arne B. Larson Concert Hall at the NMM on May 14, 2010.

Click here to hear Kim's live performance.


The King Henry IV Violin in Print and on the Air

"Amati Family Reunion Continues," Strings Trade: News and Views of the Violin Business (June 2010).

Gary Ellenbolt, "A King's Violin: From Italy to South Dakota," All Things Considered, National Public Radio, July 7, 2010.

"National Music Museum Augments its Amati Collection: 'King Henry IV' Brothers Amati to Join Fine violins in Vermillion, South Dakota," The Strad website.

Sarah Deters Richardson and Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet, "Medical Imaging Enables Staff to See the 'Whole' Picture," NMM Newsletter 37, No. 2 (August 2010).

Erin Shrader, "The French Connection—National Music Museum Receives the Rarest of Gifts," Strings 184 (August 2010): 68.

Andrew Dipper and Claire Givens, "Fit for A King," The Strad 121, No. 1446 (October 2010): 26-34. Link to Peter McGuire of the Minnesota Orchestra performing J. S. Bach's "Partita No. 3 in E Major" on The King Henry IV violin, on YouTube.


Return to NMM Newsletter Index (August 2010)

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