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Nicolò Amati Viola: the "Professor Wirth"

Nicolò Amati Viola: the "Professor Wirth"

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This viola was made by Nicolò Amati in Cremona, Italy, in 1663. It is the Professor Wirth viola, with a two-piece spruce top of medium width grain widening to the edges, two-piece back of quarter sawn maple with faint flame of narrow width mostly horizontal, ribs and scroll of similar maple, and varnish of an orange-brown color over a golden ground. There is an original printed label inside the instrument:

Nicolaus Amatus Cremonen. Hieronymi
Fil. ac Antonij Nepos Fecit. 1663

[“63” is handwritten]

This viola was owned by Emmanuel Wirth of the Joachim Quartet and professor at the Berlin Hochschule. Over time, it has been assessed by musicians as tonally superb and, despite confronting the physical challenges presented by its large size (17 5/8”), perhaps the finest viola in existence. From Professor Wirth the viola passed into the possession of the Finnish collector, Mr. Harry Wahl. Upon his death in 1940 his collection was dispersed, and the viola was eventually acquired by the violin dealer Emil Herrmann as part of a quartet of Amati instruments (the 1656 King Louis XIV and the 1672 Florian Zajic violins, the 1663 Professor Wirth viola, and the 1677 Herbert violoncello) assembled for Mrs. Anna E. Clark. She lent them to the Loewenguth Quartet of Brussels before bequeathing the quartet to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The Corcoran loaned the quartet to the Claremont String Quartet of the North Carolina School of the Arts, and in 1975, to the Tokyo String Quartet, and then to the Takács Quartet before selling them to Dr. Herbert Axelrod in 1998

Object Name
date made
Amati, Nicolo
place made
Italy: Lombardy, Cremona
Physical Description
spruce (overall material)
maple (overall material)
overall: 29 1/4 in x 10 in x 4 1/4 in; 74.295 cm x 25.4 cm x 10.795 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Evelyn and Herbert R. Axelrod
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
North Music Lobby
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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