Stradivarius Violoncello: the "Servais"

Stradivarius Violoncello: the "Servais"

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This violoncello was made Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, in 1701. It is known as the “Servais” violoncello. It is made of a two-piece table of spruce with even medium fine grain broadening toward the flanks, two-piece back of maple with beautiful medium descending figure (with wings originally added to the upper and lower bouts), ribs of similar maple, modern maple neck terminating in the original pegbox and scroll of even medium figure, and golden reddish-orange varnish. There is an original printed label inside the instrument:

Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis
Faciebat Anno 1701

[“01” is handwritten}

Antonio Stradivari is credited with the final development and refinement of the violin family, creating instruments that are viewed today as the standard of perfection. Although little is known of his life, we know from notes on his labels that he was born in 1644 and apprenticed to Nicolo Amati, the pre-eminent violin maker of Cremona, Italy. Stradivari was 57 years old when he built the Servais cello, using particularly beautiful wood he reserved for such large instruments. The varnish is unusually rich, a reddish-orange color with golden transparency. The overall purity, and especially the sound of this cello, are remarkable. For its importance in the development of the modern bowed string family, the Servais stands alone.

Adrien-François Servais (1807-1866) was a celebrated Belgian cellist famous for his powerful tone and acrobatic technique, combined with increased use of vibrato, which was at that time an innovation in performance. He was also one of the first cellists to use the modern end-pin. In addition to his frequent performance tours, he was on the Brussels Conservatory faculty during a period when Brussels was an influential musical center. This is the cello he used in his career, building an enormous public reputation.

Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
Date made
Servais, Adrien-François
Stradivari, Antonio
Place Made
Italy: Lombardy, Cremona
Physical Description
spruce (table material)
maple (back material)
overall: 50 in x 18 1/4 in x 10 7/16 in; 127 cm x 46.355 cm x 26.51125 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Charlotte V. Bergen
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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This cello can be heard on this recording of the Bach cello suites performed be Annere Bylsma.
"I completely disagree with Christopher Nicholls' comment. It is good that at least a few of the best instruments are in museums and not constantly used. Instruments that are in constant use are worn, damaged and eventually destroyed. I want my grandchildren to have the opportunity to see what a great Stradivari cello looks like! It's fine for it to be played occasionally, but please preserve it for future generations!"
"I would love to hear the sounds of this fine instrument, as its beauty is breathtaking. I would also like to see, Yo Yo Ma with this instrument in his hands. Are there any recordings of this cello being played? Wow, what it would be, to travel back in time to hear one of the Servais performances with this instrument. I must!, somehow get to the Smithsonian one day to see all the wonderful exhibits. Until then, thankyou Smithsonian for sharing American Hiistory Online!"
"Jon: Anner Bylsma recorded the Bach Suites for Solo Cello on this instrument in 1992; the CD is still in print. I know this because fifteen minutes ago I heard BWV 1007, the first suite, on the radio, and it knocked me I looked for it. The instrument has an amazing, hmm, DEPTH OF TONE -- thickness, yet absolute purity, of tone. Bylsma is no slouch; he is worthy of his instrument; that said, I would agree with the person who wrote "I want to see Yo-Yo Ma with this instrument in his hands, " though, I would want to hear Yo-Yo Ma thirty years ago with this instrument in his hands, at a time when he seemed to be bursting the limits of the cello. Hmm, well...."
"It is a great shame that this beautiful 'cello is treated like an animal exhibit in a zoo. It should be out all the time being played and listed to by audiences across the world. Instrumentws are meant to be played not looked at. In fact it's not good for them just to sit idle. No doubt you occasionally have concerts where your collection is presented and played, but this hardly represents the purpose for which they were originally crafted. It is a great shame..."
"Your observation has been the subject of much debate in the worldwide museum community for many years, not only regarding musical instruments, but all functional objects such as clocks, watches, automobiles, etc.You can find reference to articles, seminars, discussions, papers on the use of musical instruments at the web site of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Musical Instruments (CIMCIM), a committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).There are many audiences to be served by museum collections. Contemporary makers and connoisseurs, as well as musicians and listeners, benefit from public access to information revealed by objects that are carefully preserved. It would be ideal if functional objects could be thoroughly documented at the outset, so any changes (and especially loss) of original characteristics could be preserved. But we live in an imperfect world, and many private custodians of musical instruments do not have the resources, nor inclination, to capture and disseminate knowledge of these features.To that end you are correct. We not only use the Stradivari "Servais " cello in live performances here at the museum, it has been enjoyed by many throughout the world through nine recordings. In addition we have Computed Tomography (CT) scans that accurately document every physical aspect of the instrument, and shared knowledge of the cello through three major publications, as well as the web site. Before it came to the Smithsonian in 1981, this instrument was never seen nor heard in public, kept in private hands, since the death of Adrien-Francois Servais in 1867."
"This cello is frequently played by the Dutch cellist, Anner Bylsma, and is regularly on loan to him. He plays in the Baroque manner; he's recorded the Bach suites on this instrument and also performs on a traditional instrument, as well as the five-stringed violoncello piccolo. "

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