World's Most Valuable Violin a Fraud?

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New computer analysis questions validity of most famous Stradivarius violin.

In 1855, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, a French violin maker and dealer, announced he had come into possession of the world's most perfectly preserved violin ever made by the renowned luthier Antonio Stradivari. Today, this famous violin hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England. But is it really a genuine Strad?

While speculation about the legitimacy of The Messiah Strad is nothing new, this is the first time a computer analysis comparing dimensions of the Messiah Strad with other known violin makers has been performed. And the results are amazing according to Robert Wright, developer of ViolinID, the world's only software program developed to help determine the maker of a violin via analysis of the instrument's measured proportions.

"The software just tells it like it sees it," says Wright. "It compares key proportions of an unknown or questionable violin to the same proportions from a database of violins for which the maker is known. The program then generates a list of the most similar known violins. In the case of the Messiah Strad, violins made by Vuillaume appear at the top of the list of most similar violins."

Another facet of the ongoing debates surrounding the Messiah Strad include the dendrochronology studies that have been performed on it. Yet, some note that tree-ring studies are of little value in the world of violins. In William Henley's Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers, it is noted how Vuillaume "traveled throughout Switzerland, Tyrol and Silesia in search of old wood and old furniture of any kind." Therefore, skeptics note that considering how the Messiah Strad came through the hands of Vuillaume, tree-ring analysis is useless for establishing a trustworthy timeframe for the Messiah Strad's origin.

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Dan Wright
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