The famed “Batta-Piatigorsky” ‘cello made by legendary Antonio Stradivari is one of the highlights of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s newly reopened André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments.
The instrument, on loan from a private collector, is one of more than 230 works of art, featured by individual masterworks, each within its musical and cultural context.
Built in 1714, the cello, owned by the distinguished cellists Alexandre Batta (Dutch, 1816-1902) and Gregor Piatigorsky (Russian, 1903-1976), is regarded as one of the best examples of the maker’s work.
More than a quarter of the reinstallation includes new acquisitions as well as instruments from the collection that have rarely been seen by the public.
On display, for example, is the oldest extant piano in the world, built by the inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori of Florence in 1720.
Among other items are a festooned viola d’amore built by the great Milanese violin maker Giovanni Grancino in 1701; a swan-neck lute made by Pietro Railich of Padua in 1669; an extraordinarily early Dutch oboe made ca. 1700 and a beautifully decorated mandolin made in northern Italy around 1710.
A Double Virginal (harpsichord) with a lid painting featuring the story of David and Goliath, was made in 1600 in The Netherlands, and a walking-stick flute/oboe combination was commissioned by Frederick the Great.
They are accompanied by a recently acquired presentation violin bow made entirely of tortoiseshell with ivory fittings was purchased for the Museum by Edward and Susan Greenberg.
Rounding out the collection are violins by the Amati family and Stradivari and two guitars that once belonged to the guitarist Andrés Segovia.
Among the featured exhibits is a comparison of two violins by Antonio Stradivari.
One of the instruments, built in 1693 and has been restored to the original setup at the time of its creation. It’s displayed next to an example from 1694 that is in modern playing condition.
The exhibits explains the technical differences between the two instruments, such as fingerboard length, neck angle, and strings, for example.
The installation also features several European paintings, including a portrait of Charles Rousseau Burney, composer and nephew of the musicologist Charles Burney, painted by Thomas Gainsborough.
A recently acquired portrait shows an 18th-century French nobleman playing guitar (purchased for the Museum by The Bradford and Dorothea Endicott Foundation), as well as a Renaissance-style table and a Meissen porcelain figure.
The Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Musical Instruments holds about 5,000 instruments from six continents and the Pacific Islands, dating from about 300 B.C. to the present.
Unsurpassed in its comprehensive scope, the collection illustrates the development of musical instruments from all cultures and eras, according to the museum.
Many of the instruments are playable and can be heard in concerts and on recordings, as well as in lecture-demonstrations.
Complementing the installation are more than 60 recordings on the Museum’s Audio Guide, which is available in the Great Hall.
It offers musical excerpts performed on instruments in the collection as well as narration on the instruments’ functions, symbolism, decoration, and technology. Further recordings will be added later in the spring.
The exhibit is currently open.
Fridays and Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Sundays, Tuesdays-Thursdays 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Met Holiday Mondays in the Main Building: May 31, July 5, Sept. 6, Oct. 11, and Dec. 27; 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
All other Mondays closed; Jan. 1, Thanksgiving, and Dec. 25 closed