This violin was made by Nicolo Amati in Cremona, Italy in 1656. Nicolo Amati (1596–1684) was from the third generation of the famous Amati family in Cremona. The son of Hieronymous I, he is commonly regarded as the greatest maker of the family. Nicolo took over the business on his father’s death in 1630, a time when Cremona was devastated by famine followed by the plague. The only remaining maker of any consequence in Italy, his survival assured the craft of violin making in Cremona would endure.
In 1949 Emil Herrmann writes that “the back and table are decorated with double purfling and inlaid fleur de lys which, on the table, are inset with rubies and emeralds,” and this violin “was made to order for the Royal Family of France, most probably for King Louis XIV.” Computed Tomography scans indicate these gem stones are actually the density of glass, and while it now bears the Louis XIV attribution assigned by Herrmann, there is no documentation of the violin’s association to French royalty.
The importance of the Amati family of violin makers cannot be overstated. In the 17th century, Nicolo's grandfather, Andrea Amati, appears to have created the form of the violin, viola, and cello as they are known today. Andrea's two sons, known as the "Brothers Amati," continued the family business, as well as his innovative spirit. The larger tenor viola was commonly played in their time, and while they made many of them, the "Brothers" are generally credited with introducing the smaller contralto viola, the size regarded as more suitable today. As with Jacob Stainer, the influence of the Amatis spread across Europe, influencing contemporary makers as far away as England and the Netherlands.
Nicolo Amati (1596-1684) was the last of the highly esteemed Amati violin makers and is considered the most refined craftsman of the Amati family. He took over the business on his father's death in 1630, a time when Cremona was devastated by famine followed by the plague. His survival assured the craft of violin making in Cremona would not only endure, but also exceed the pioneering work of earlier generations. The only remaining maker of any consequence in Italy, Nicolo regained a productive shop by 1640. Over his ensuing career he trained the next generation of Cremonese masters including Andrea Guraneri, Francesco Rugeri, Giovanni Rogeri, Giacomo Gennaro, and Antonio Stradivari. Jacob Stainer may have been one of his pupils as well.
Like his forebearers, Nicolo's production led him to develop yet another Amati innovation. Known today as the "Grand Amati," this slightly larger model violin is the most desirable for modern musicians. In general, his instruments are highly regarded for their elegant quality of sound and easy response to a musician's touch. Nicolo's lifetime achievement is judged as much by the preservation and impetus he gave to violin making as it is by the fine instruments he crafted in his mind and with his hands.