Surrounded by some of it's most notable contemporaries worn smooth from use and the erosive passage of time counted in centuries, the Messiah Stradivarius violin greets visitors at the Ashmolean Museum with it's factory new edges still bearing the maker's own gentle purfling; gleaming as "the perfect" 1716 example of Antonio Stradivari's "Golden Period" by which countless future violins have been patterned after. Named "le Messie" in jest by violinist Jean-Delphin Alard after hearing Luigi Tarisio talk about the "Salabue" violin one too many times, the hallowed moniker lends this violin a gravitas becoming of such a rare and precious item.
"In 1775 Paolo contracted to sell these instruments [the 10 remaining from his father's workshop] and other things from his father's shop to Count Cozio di Salabue, one of the most important collectors in history; and although Paolo died before the transaction was concluded, Salabue acquired the instruments. Salabue kept the 'Messiah' until 1827, when he sold it to Luigi Tarisio, a fascinating character who, from small beginnings, built up an important business dealing in violins. However, Tarisio could not bear to part with this instrument. Instead, he made it a favorite topic of conversation, and intrigued dealers on his visits to Paris with accounts of this marvelous 'Salabue' violin, as it was then called, taking care, however, never to bring it with him. One day Tarisio was discoursing to Vuillaume on the merits of this unknown and marvelous instrument, when the violinist Delphin Alard, who was present, exclaimed: 'Then your violin is like the Messiah: one always expects him but he never appears' ('Ah, ça, votre violon est donc comme le Messie; on l'attend toujours, et il ne parait jamais'). Thus the violin was baptized with the name by which it is still known."Antonio Stradivari, Cremona, 1716, the 'Messiah, Messie, Salabue' | Tarisio
Then there is the contention that accompanies objects of unique indeterminate value, thus some question if le Messie is an actual Antoni Stradivari with compelling arguments. The fact that W.E. Hill & Sons gifted le Messie in 1940 to the Ashmolean Museum, with the stipulation that it never be played has stymied many violinists, and amplified the controversy.
Long before Tarisio died in 1854 thanks to his many trips to Paris, the legend of a remarkable, uniquely preserved Stradivari violin from the height of his Golden Period was strong within dealing circles, so when Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume heard of his death and travelled in secret to Turin to secure Tarisio's collection of violins, it was as if his reputation rode on his ability to secure the crown jewel of all violin making come what may. As some have suggested, the significance of owning the Messiah was so great for Vuillaume, that he had to return to Paris with it whether it existed or not. From thereon the legend was not subject to whether such a violin existed, but whether it was real of fake.STRADIVARI'S FABLED "MESSIAH" THREE CENTURIES ON: THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL VIOLIN IN HISTORY? | Violins and Violinists
While le Messie is rarely played, examples such as the video below of similar violins that lets one hear what The Messiah should sound like: