The oldest cellos known to exist came from the hands of Andrea Amati, born about 1511. He lived in Cremona, Italy. It is not known how many cellos he made, but we know of only three.
The cello pictured here is called "The King," and is historically the most famous of all cellos. It was exhibited in 1968 at the Rockefeller University for the Conference on Scientific Aspects of Musical Instruments with the following information: "Violoncello by Andrea Amati, Cremona, not after 1574, body length 75.5 cm (reduced from larger dimensions). Neck and fittings modern. Painted and gilded with the arms, devices, and mottoes of Charles IX, King of France. Label probably a facsimile, dated 1572."
Charles IX of France had ordered 38 instruments from Andrea Amati, including 8 "basses," and this instrument is thought to be one of them. The paintings are on the back and the sides, and there are decorations on the peg box as well (the peg box and scroll on this cello are original). On the centre of the back can be seen a crown over the remaining outline of the royal coat of arms, on either side of which is a figure. To the right is a figure of a woman and further to the right, a column, with a crown on top, and still another crown near the bottom of the instrument. On the left side, the figure is no longer visible, and only a portion of the column remains. The figures stand for Piety and Justice.
On the sides of the cello were the words "Pietate" and "Justicia." On the bass side only the letters ETA remain visible from the word "Pietate;" "Justicia" was on the treble side. Above the "K" which stands for Charles (Karolus) is a crown, surrounded by other decorative figures on the middle bout.
In each of the four corners of the back is a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the royal family of France. There is also a fleur-de-lis at the back of the peg box.
On the peg box is a fifth peg hole that may or may not have been there originally. (There were five-stringed cellos up to the middle of the eighteenth century.) The instrument has obviously been knocked about a little, but it has been beautifully repaired and is in a healthy condition today. The overall colour is of amber.
The voice of this cello is remarkable. It possesses a beautiful, full-throated sound, vigorous enought to be heard in a concerto. The cello is basically the same as a modern cello, although it has been cut down. In every other respect than size, Andrea Amati made cellos as they are known today. For 200 years Andrea Amati and his descendents made these wonderful instruments.