The Batta–Piatigorsky Violoncello, 1714
Antonio Stradivari (Italian, 1644–1737)
Spruce, maple, ebony
L. of body 29 15/16 in. (76 cm), L. of upper bout 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm), L. of center bout 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm), L. of lower bout 17 5/16 in. (43.9 cm), L. of string 27 5/16 in. (69.4 cm)
Private collection, United States (L.2005.8a–g)
Just as Stradivari's career began around 1665, there was a major advance in string making: the development of gut strings overspun with fine metal wire. With the availability of these new strings, Stradivari was able to reduce the size of the cello, thereby improving its acoustical qualities and making it easier to play. Of the approximately sixty extant Stradivari cellos, some twenty are of this smaller size. The Batta-Piatigorsky is considered one of the best examples of this smaller, improved model.
The Batta-Piatigorsky violoncello is named after the distinguished Dutch cellist Alexandre Batta (1816–1902), who purchased it in Paris around 1836. This instrument was Batta's steady companion for most of his career, but in 1893 circumstances forced him to part with it, and he sold it to the London dealer William E. Hill & Sons, who purchased it for the violin collector Baron Knoop. The great Russian-born cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (1903–1976) acquired the instrument from Dr. Daniel Catlin, the son-in-law of the art collector and Metropolitan Museum trustee Horace Havemeyer, who himself owned and had lent Piatigorsky another important Stradivari cello, the Duport. Piatigorsky wrote in his biography: "I played the 'Batta' for a long time before appearing in concert with it. In solitude, as is befitting honeymooners, we avoided interfering company until then. From that day on, when I proudly carried the 'Batta' across the stage for all to greet, a new challenge entered into my life. While all other instruments I had played prior to the 'Batta' differed one from the other in character and range, I knew their qualities, shortcomings, or their capriciousness enough to exploit their good capabilities to full advantage. Not so with the 'Batta,' whose prowess had no limitations. Bottomless in its resources, it spurred me on to try to reach its depths, and I have never worked harder or desired anything more fervently than to draw out of this superior instrument all it has to give."