6. Who is the owner of the Stradivari’s relicts of the Fiorini Collection and the Carteggio of Cozio di Salabue?

Many years ago, I made a research about the origin of the lutherie collections formerly kept in the Museo Stradivariano in Cremona[1] and, analysing the sources I found, even at that time something felt wrong about the acquirement procedure of the Salabue-Fiorini Collection by the Municipality of Cremona, but I've never had time to delve deeper into the matter. I got back to it only very recently.

My line of reasoning should start from a premise: since 1930, magazines and books have always reported that in that same year Giuseppe Fiorini “gave to the Municipality of Cremona the Stradivari relics collection and the Carteggio of Cozio di Salabue, that he bought in 1920 from Marchioness Paola Dalla Valle di Pomaro, heiress of the Piedmontese count who bought them from Paolo (son) and Antonio (grandson) of Antonio Stradivari in 1775-76. The authors of the 1987 Catalogue (reprinted in 2001) reaffirmed it in the chapter “The fortunes of the Stradivari Museum”,[2] Santoro said it too in his book about Giuseppe Fiorini in 1988[3] and also Cacciatori confirmed it in the Catalogue of the collections preserved at the Museo del Violino since 2013, that he recently wrote.[4]

The paperworks of the time, kept in the modern section of the Municipal Archive now deposited in the Archivio di Stato, and the many others allocated in different collections, for the most part coming from the Museo Civico and now kept in the Museo and the Libreria Civica, in the Biblioteca Statale of Cremona, seem to tell a different story.

But let's start from the beginning:

In his letter written on April 23rd 1929, the General Consul of Italy in Munich solicited the Podestà of Cremona to make known “his opinion and the potential decisions of this Municipality” with regards to the proposal included in a letter from Giuseppe Fiorini (attached in a typed copy), that showed the luthier's intention of bringing back his collections of Stradivari relics “with certain reservations, as permanent bailment (deposito permanente), exclusively to the town of Cremona, that founded a specific Museum some time ago in order to keep the relics of its great luthiers”.

The luthier went on:

“In my opinion, they should be protected from any possible damage and danger, but also they should serve the aim of the practical benefit for the Art of Lutherie. Therefore, I grant a lapse of time until the year 1933, in order to allow the town of Cremona to be able to assure those conditions.

After that period, I will automatically act freely, and I will provide myself the best way of make those precious and unique items useful to the Art»[5].

On May 8th, 1929 the Podestà replied to the Consul with the following words, that summarize perfectly his opinion:

«…The Craftmanship Province Secretariat and the Culture Fascist Institute are currently making a study on establishing a Lutherie School in Cremona. If they actually are, as they are supposed to be, Stradivari relics, I would be grateful to Sig. Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini for sending them to our Museo Civico for bailment (deposito) for now, where they will be carefully preserved with all the other relics already kept there. If the school isn't instituted before 1933, Sig. Cav. Fiorini will be free to do as he pleases with the items that he owns»[6].

The cautious aside: “ If they actually are, as they are supposed to be, Stradivari relics” is probably due to the “fake Stradivari papers” affaire, that caused a trial in Bergamo, in the papers at the time.[7]

Fiorini's offer and the Podestà's proposal were highlighted by the local newspaper on May 15th, in an anonymous piece, very likely written by Renzo Bacchetta.[8]

Cav. Fiorini reached Cremona at the beginning of June and met Cav. Pietro Anelli, owner of the famous piano factory and determined advocate of the establishing in Cremona of the Lutherie School, Don Illemo Camelli, the curator of Museo Civico, and dr. Renzo Bacchetta, Province Craftmanship secretary and journalist (as well as enthusiastic lutherie researcher).

Almost a year went by, and the Municipality seemed to play for time, while Pietro Anelli kept in touch constantly with Cav. Fiorini, keeping him informed about the Cremona School of Lutherie establishing project. While politics was taking its time, a school of lutherie was founded in Parma: it worried Fiorini, who feared the competition between the schools in the two towns, which are so close to each other.[9]

On April 4th 1930, maybe also to twist the Podestà's arm, the luthier wrote him from Munich the letter that follows:

« Illustrious Podestà

It's been twelve month since I had the honour to meet you in Cremona to talk about my collection of Stradivari relics and its permanent bailment in the Museo Civico of your town. Since I am convinced that the conditions under which this gift was given will be fulfilled, I took care of having it delivered to Prof. Camelli, who will receive the items in the next few days.

I plan to be in Cremona on the 15th of this month and stay all the time the proceedings of this matter will take.

I trust you will take note of all the things I explained, and will accomplish them as it is expected from the leader of Stradivari's homeland, who should be willing to glorify Cremona.

With my best regards,

Yours sincerely

  1. Fiorini».[10]

The two terms (permanent bailment and gift), that Fiorini used in this letter as synonyms, because he probably wasn't qualified enough to understand the legal differences implied in Italian language, seem to be odds with clearly determining the form of his cession.

The origin of the permanent bailment that Fiorini opted for is explained in a letter to Pietro Anelli that he sent from Monaco on June 29th 1930, in which he reacted to some pieces published on the Cremona[11] and Milano[12] local papers – that he attributed to Renzo Bacchetta, probably rightly so, whom he wanted to have nothing to do with since then – which pointed out that the items of the collections “crossed the borders twice unnoticed”, and he clarified: «I never told anyone, just because I think it is unnecessary, that when I wrote to the Marchioness Dalla Valle to ask her to sell me the famous collection, I told her that my aim wasn't a mean speculation, but indeed I wanted to study it meticulously for the good of the Art and then give it to my country. In order to put into practice my decision after the completion of purchase, I met Avv. Cav. Mario Tedeschi in Turin and asked his advice about which form my donation to Cremona should take, and it was him who recommended the permanent bailment. […] But actions speak louder than words. AFTER I took it back with me abroad, because I wouldn't have entrusted anyone with it, when I tought it was the right moment I gave it to and entrusted with it Stradivari's home town. They blame me for having taken it abroad twice; but I was its legal owner and the only one allowed to subject it to any favourable study. HOW could have I done it without having it with me? If I wanted to sell it, I could have done it when I was in Switzerland and here in Munich, couldn't I? I had many chances to selling them and you know that I could have earned twice the amount I paid for it. ISN'T my refusal to any proposal the best evidence of the goodness of my intentions? Who could have prevented me from selling it abroad and earn 200.000 liras? Who knows what the journalists would have done if they were me!»[13]

Even though there is no reason to doubt Fiorini's good faith, in point of fact the remark about the illicit transfer of the relics abroad wasn't airy-fairy. According to the provisions of the law (Rosadi-Rava) of the June 20th 1909, n. 364, art 1 “All the movable items and the properties of historical, archaeological, prehistorical and artistic significance” – excluding those made within 50 years – including “codes, ancient manuscripts, incunabula, prints and rare and precious engravings and items of numismatic significance” were amenable to protection and therefore, according to the application rules of that law, (R.D. January 30th, 1913, n. 363) it was forbidden to export them, “at least when that produced a real damage to history, archaeology and art”, no matter if the items belonged to private or public owners.[14]

However, according to the application of the rule, “the tenet of the time didn't acknowledge the innovative impact of the principles of the 1909 law [by the way, they were evoked in the laws of 1939, 1999 and the following ones], on the contrary they tried to channel them into the more usual intitutions of the Public Services, of the royal burdens or the administrative curbs of the private property”.[15]

The denounce of the illicit transfer deeply upset Fiorini, who reaffirmed in a letter to Don Camelli on September 4th 1930 the events that led to the purchasing of the collection and the reasons why he took it with him: «During the war [1915-1918], while I was waiting to come back to my home country, I stayed in Zurich, where I heard that the Stradivari relics collection was going to be sold to Sig.r Barere [sic] Ministro Francese [sic]; I took a quick decision and wrote to Marchioness Paola Della Valle something like this: “I am not a rich man and I am not a profiteer wanting to conclude a deal; on the contrary, I am a luthier and a scholar, willing to buy the Stradivari relics to use them in order to improve the art and ultimately to give them to the Italian Government, if it will be willing to open a school of lutherie. Please do help me, Madam, to reach that patriotic goal”.

My dear Professor, you can see now that my decision was clear since the beginning and all my later actions were in keeping with my intention. The transfer of the relics to Switzerland, where I lived, became necessary for many reasons. First of all the life conditions in Italy prevented me to come back after a short time and it was essential to examine them in the quiteness of my workshop. The Marchioness refused to keep them any longer. None of my acquaintances agreed to keep them for me. Therefore I had to take them to Zurich and then I took them back to Rome with me, when I moved there in 1923. As it is well known, I went to Cremona in 1925, in order to offer them to the Museo Civico. Comm. Mandelli asked me to prolong my offer, promising me to write me, but I have never heard from him again.

My eye illness forced me to go back to Germany to try a new therapy, bringing back the collection, after I refused several favourable propositions because, at worst, I would have left them all to the Museo Civico of Cremona after my death. The scandalous fake Stradivari documents, that you know well, made me send a telegram to the newspaper “La Tribuna” in Rome, in which I affirmed, like I did in a letter sent at the same time to the General Consul in Munich too, that I offered them to the Government, specifically to Cremona. You know the rest.»[16]

I cannot omit to reiterate that all the Cremonese sources I read confirm that Fiorini firmly believed in the Permanent Bailement suggested by his lawyer from Turin:

-   In his letter from Venice on October 19th, the luthier wrote to the Podestà: «I'll be back in Cremona on October 23rd to attend the opening [of the new Stradivari Hall]. Please do let the Roma Hotel know the details to arrange a meeting, so that we can discuss the Permanent Bailment deed as we agreed, and I would like to do it before the end of this week.»[17]

On October 20th, the Podestà sent to the Roma Hotel the message Fiorini asked for, adding also that: «Concerning the text of the deed to be written about the permanent Bailment of the Stradivari relics in the Museo Civico of Cremona, please do meet me in the afternoon on 23rd or 24th inst.».[18]

- The printed official invitation to the opening of the Stradivari Hall in the Museo Civico held on October 26th, prepared by the Municipality and dated October 20th, 1930, tells at a certain point: «dressed with local relics and those of the Salabue Collection, permanently deposited by Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini.»[19]

- Among the paperworks, there is a deed to be drawn up between Giuseppe Fiorini and the Municipality of Cremona, typed and ready to be signed – it might be agreed upon during the above-mentioned meeting with the Podestà – that envisages the delivering of the Stradivari items, indicated in number of 1303,[20] to the Museo Civico [actually it was done between April and June 1930], in order to “display them with cultural and research purposes”; the Podestà pro tempore committed to “take charge of the preservation and permanent bailment of said relics as well as to make the staff of the Museo Civico do an inventory and a description of them all as soon as possible ”[21]

- In his autographed autobiography[22], found in the Museo Civico and currently kept in the Libreria Civica, handwritten on four sheets and sent to Don Camelli along with a letter written on October 6th 1930,[23] Giuseppe Fiorini reaffirmed that he gave the Stradivari relics to Cremona as permanent Bailment.

Camelli based on that autobiography his piece about the transfer – published on the magazine Cremona in October 1930 – which is bearing the term donation on its title[24], and a handwritten note by Camelli himself, written in pencil on that paper who knows when, on the side of the caption permanent bailment, says: “then changed into unconditional donation”.

Don Camelli wrote also his personal letter of invitation to the opening of the Stradivari Hall, dated October 18th 1930 – nowadays the Museo Civico keeps in its correspondence both the handwritten draft version and a typed copy on the letterhead of the Institute version[25] - in which he says with conviction:

«Dear Sir,

on Sunday 16th inst., at 10 o'clock, it will be held the opening of the hall dedicated to our luthier ANTONIO STRADIVARI in our Museo Civico, where the items of the Salabue collection are displayed, thanks to luthier cav. Giuseppe Fiorini's donation.

We request the honour of your presence, as a deserving specialist in music and art, to the opening ceremony and to visit the displayed items».

At this point, one can reasonably wonder if the donation Camelli mentioned in his invitation, written before the correspondence between Fiorini and the Podestà on October 19th and 20th, was a personal persuasion or a fact. Probably Don Camelli too wasn't prepared to distinguish the legal difference between the terms bailment and donation in Italian language. On the other hand, in the “popular” version of the events, it seems that also the Podestà run into the same contradiction, although he was a lawyer. As a matter of fact, on October 25th lawyer Giovanni Bellini wrote Don Camelli to invite him «to an intimate lunch provided by the Municipality tomorrow, 26th inst. at the Roma Hotel at 12h30, in honour of Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini, who donated to the Museo Civico a rich and fine collection of Stradivari relics.»[26]

On the other hand, the official thank-you letter the Podestà sent to Cav. Fiorini shows the same ambiguity – among the paperworks kept in the archive there are both Don Camelli's handwritten rough copy and the typed copy dated October 26th 1930, signed and bearing the note of the sending on October 25th or 29th:

«Dear Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini,

Munificently, you gave the Municipality of Cremona for the Museo Civico the Stradivari relics formerly belonging to the famous Count Cozio di Salabue Collection, that you bought from Marchioness Paola dalla Valle, in order to prevent the collection to be lost abroad and with the clear purpose to donate it to Italy.

The Municipality of Cremona welcomes your offer with deep pride, because it is a sign of predilection and solemn homage to the great and pure glory of Antonio Stradivari and all the other distinguished luthiers from Cremona, and it remedies our ancestors' carelessness, justified only by the straitened circumnstances.


By giving the relics, you didn't ask the town to really found a School of lutherie, but you only asked to display the relics and make them available for the general study, because only the research free from all ties that can hinder genius, or fecundate mediocre and negative work, can light spontaneously the divine sparkle that enlightened Antonio Stradivari.

The Municipality of Cremona understands and appreciates the high value of this deep practical concept, which is guided by a strong sense of the true art, so that it will devote itself not only to take care of the relics as attentively as you wish, or to display them permanently in the Museo Civico under the scrupulous and competent tutelage of the Italian art laws and the statute of the Museum, but also to make them living study tools available for everyone, describing their ideal importance and practical essence at the right time, creating around them an aura of intellectual communication and affectionate interaction which is the real fruitful school for those who are talented in the art.

Those intentions and that clear promise are the answer of the Municipality of Cremona to your moral gift associated with the material delivery of the relics, and while Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini's name is engraved on the marble board bearing the list of the most generous benefactor of the Museo Civico, his name is metaphorically included among those of the most illustrious men who made Cremona great in the art of sound.»[27]

As a matter of fact, Fiorini's name is engraved on the walled-in commemorative plaque at the end of the staircase in Palazzo Affaitati, where the Museo Civico is located, but someone (probably Don Camelli) thought about an epigraph to put in the Stradivari Hall, which has never been realized, mentioning the gift instead of the bailment.[28] And I wonder: what did the Podestà mean in his thank-you letter with the words “The Municipality of Cremona welcomes your offer”? Did he talk about the permanent bailment or the donation? And did a letter suffice as an official deed of formal acceptance of the cession from the municipality?

It is difficult to date Don Camelli's note in the margin of Fiorini's autobiography. It might have occurred after the opening of the Stradivari Hall, given that the printed invitation card mentioned the permanent bailment, as already said, and maybe also after the piece on the October 1930 issue of Cremona magazine, published at the end of the month and therefore written some days before; it can be dated presumably between October 1930 and January 24th 1934, the day when Giuseppe Fiorini died and couldn't sign any more paper.

But why such a fundamental decision the luthier potentially made – probably after October 20th 1930 – left no trace in the municipal archive, nor in the lists (Repertori) of the City Register (the Registers of “Protocollo” are not available because they have been moved in a warehouse outside of Cremona – even though they remains available if requested in advance –), nor in the Registers of determinations of the Podestà (all kept in the Archivio di Stato), nor in the Register of the Contracts (Volume 3, 1924 – 1950) drawn up by the municipal secretary, that is still kept in the Archivio Corrente of the Municipality of Cremona, which are the only extant sources proving the administrative activity of the municipality in those years, giving that the Town Council was closed in 1922 and the Giunta Municipale in 1926, and they weren't restored until 1946?

One could think that a notary drew up the bailment or donation deed, but in that case it should be noted in the municipal registers or at least its copy should have been kept in the archive papers.

I wonder also: why wasn't the permanent bailment deed signed? Why haven't I found a paper that explicits Giuseppe Fiorini's change of mind about “the unconditional donation”? Why haven't I found any private or public or administative contract regulating the bailment or the donation of the collection, regularly signed by both contracting parties?

The formal procedure, usually followed many times before for other cessions to the Museum, even the less important ones, consisted in the clear written intention of the transferor (or someone on his/her behalf) and in the acceptance of the Municipality by a formal act (usually a decision of the Giunta Municipale). For example, that is what happened in 1934 when Amilcare Ponchielli's piano was donated to the Municipality of Cremona and officially accepted through a official Podestà's decision on July 13th. But it doesn't seem to have happened for the delivery of the Salabue Collection in 1930, or for the two instruments (a violin and a viola) Fiorini gave the Museum in 1932 ,[29] or for the painting “Portrait of Cozio di Salabue” by Morera that Fiorini's widow Wally Rieger gave the Museum in 1934.[30]

One can think that the delay in finalising the agreement of the cession of the Collection was a way to sort out the problem of the illicit transfer abroad made by Fiorini – waiting for the attention of the media and of anyone who was in charge of solving it to decrease –, but I seriously doubt that at that time people cared about such niceties. Santoro said – as usual without citing the source – that in 1929, about this issue, the Podestà “asked Anelli no to dwell too much on bureaucracy”.[31]

Or maybe the paperworks weren't finalised because people was still waiting for the promised foundation of the School of Lutherie, to be made according to what Fiorini asked in 1929, within 1933; but as it is written in the above-mentioned thank-you letter from the Podestà on October 26th 1930, it seems that Fiorini decided to drop it.

On October 10th 1932 the Municipality received a letter: the letterhead said Città di Firenze / Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Mostra di Liuteria Italiana Antica e Moderna (City of Florence / Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Ancient and Modern Italian Lutherie Exhibition) and it was signed by Ugo Ojetti as President of the Lutherie Exhibition and Carlo Del Croix as President of the Ente Autonomo Politeama Fiorentino; it said that «the organizing Committee decided that the central hall [of the exhibition organized in Palazzo Vecchio] will be available for the Municipality of Cremona, in order to arrange and exhibit the items and relics concerning the glorious tradition of Lutherie.»

The Podestà answered to such important people very quickly, on October 14th, confirming that the Municipality of Cremona was going to take part to the event, and ordered the Museum curator on the same day: «Today I aswered to their letter, confirming that Cremona will be present at the exhibition, therefore I ask you to arrange with the mentioned Presidency the delivering of our Stradivari relics to Firenze.»[32]

On November 20th, Fiorini answered to a letter from Don Camelli on November 8th, in order to consult him about the temporary loan to Firenze, saying also:

«I am quite worried about what you write on the event in Firenze. I am sure you will take all the necessary precautions to preserve the Stradivari relics as much as possible, but nobody can assure me that an accident, maybe a fire, won't happen.

An even partial destruction of those items, so important to us, will be an irreparable damage, because they are unique. I will never be able to be consoled.

I think it would be enough to send to Firenze some pictures of the many showcases you made so well, with a clear heading telling the origin, the transfers and the last ownership and the permanent bailment to the Cremona Museum, that I did.»

Considering the above-mentioned cremonese sources, one could have thought there was an oral agreement between Fiorini and the Municipality about the donation, but this last document proves that at the end of 1932, the luthier was still convinced that the nature of his cession was a permanent bailment.

In that same letter, Fiorini was still afraid that the inevitable publicity the press was going to give to the items displayed in Firenze could dig up again the question of the illicit transfer abroad and retraced again how he happened to take possession of the collections, the reasons why he took it abroad and how he “gave it to Italy” and recognised Don Camelli as responsible for the final decision on the loan.[33]

During the last days of 1932 and the beginning of the new year they tried to find a solution for the Firenze matter: the Podestà wanted to confirm the Municipality of Cremona's support, Don Camelli worked against it reporting all Fiorini's conditions, while Senator Ojetti asked insistently to persuade the luthier to give up his opposition.

Finally, after receiving a letter from Ojetti himself, Fiorini replied on January 26th 1933 saying that, after a long reasoning: «The thing is: the Podestà doesn't think he alone can be responsible for that, but I can't be either, since I certainly am the most competent in assessing its seriousness, in case of damage.»[34]

On Febraury 6th, Fiorini wrote the Podestà a definitive letter, listing all the precautions he required, « in addition to those mentioned by Prof. Camelli.

My special conditions are here briefly illustrated: Prof. Camelli himself must deliver the collection, because he has to be the one to put it back in the showcases, already prepared.

Those must be locked as surely as possible and have to be sealed, better with lead, to prevent anyone from pulling out the items.

Prof. Camelli himself must take care of them and bring them back to Cremona.

The insurance must be no less than five hundred thousand liras.

Should you not accept my requests, I will refuse my permission and I will not give it back.»[35]

Fiorini behaves more like a “Bailee”, still the owner of the items, than a “donor”, who has given up his rights to them. Anyway, Don Camelli, who was called to action, wrote Ojetti a long letter on February 9th, the seven-pages handwritten draft of which is still kept in the archive, saying that, also due to some personal health reasons, he couldn't accept the responsibility, commitment and toil of taking himself the relics to Firenze and bringing them back to Cremona at the end of the exhibition.[36]

That was the end of the debate: all Fiorini's requests were accepted, and in a letter to Don Camelli on March 18th 1933 he expressed his satisfaction:

« My dear friend,

your letter of March 9th found me here in Gallspach, where I am following a course of treatment as usual. I feel deeply relieved reading the news you are giving me and I hope it will be confirmed. During our next meeting, maybe in May, I will tell you things I couldn't put into writing.

For now, thank you for your kindness and collaboration.»

Before the May meeting, things got more relaxed in Cremona. On May 29th Fiorini's wife, Wally, wrote Don Camelli that her husband was seriously hill, because on May 12th he suffered a “stroke”.[37] Until December, the luthier still wrote some letters to Camelli, but couldn't come back to Cremona anymore and, as mentioned before, he died on January 24th of the following year.

After Giuseppe Fiorini's death, the Municipality had no hesitance in behaving like the “owner” of the collection, to the extent that in 1938, for a simple political interest, some Stradivari relics were delivered to the International Craftmanship Fair in Berlin, locked in sealed and “unalterable” showcases, insured against any risk by the Riunione Adriatica Sicurtà for five hundred thousand liras. During the journey back to Cremona, two showcase glasses were broken and 13 relics got damaged, but the insurance didn't refund the damage because the policy “didn't cover the breakage risk”.[38]

In the letter – the draft of which is still preserved among the paperworks – Don Camelli wrote to the Podestà on November 23rd 1938 while the issue was still being debated, he added to the minutes of the damage verification: «Actually, though, the damages suffered by the relics are very small and almost every damage is fixable. [...] Although, any damage caused by a disregard of the rules of that kind of transport is a very serious issue, and I have already agreed with the competent authorities that the Museum of Cremona will no more let its relics or works leave the Museum. In time, everyone should understand that any museum collection cannot be moved often or be tossed about on any interested request ». [39]

That was the last task concerning the Fiorini Collection that Camelli took care of, because he died on January 4th 1939, and – since the several Podestàs changed over the years – the recollection of the real events that led to the acquisition of the collection died with him. Then, there was the war and people who replaced him later were so sure that Fiorini donated the Stradivari relics that they never thought about checking the facts.

At this point, I thought my survey came to an end, but – even though Guido Bianchi, Fiorini's widow's brother-in-law, talked about the Museum as “already owner of the Stradivari collection that Fiorini donated[40] in a letter he wrote in 1934 to Prof. Camelli, to notify the delivering of the Portrait of Cozio di Salabue – I also wondered: what if Wally Rieger, Fiorini's widow, changed the agreement? She could have done it within the end of 1938, before Don Camelli's death, who was the one who wrote the marginal note on the luthier's autobiography. Therefore I made an extra research in the municipal registers and among the already-mentioned sources in order to find any trace of it in the papers concerning the years between 1934 and 1939, but I found no proof of it.

In the draft of the above-mentioned permanent bailment deed, Fiorini requested the Municipality to make an inventory of the relics. On October 31st, 1930[41] the Podestà ordered the curator of the Museum to make the inventory, but it was never done.

While the Carteggio of Cozio di Salabue was first listed in the transcription that Renzo Bacchetta published in 1950[42], the Stradivari relics were first listed summarily in 1956, when the Municipality of Cremona gave the International School of Lutherie all the lutherie relics collection of the Museo Civico in the form of a transfer in use: the “local” ones, arrived at the Museum before 1930, not were distinguished from those belonging to the Salabue Collection and from those arrived later.[43]

In 1973 the Carteggio Cozio di Salabue – kept in the Museum – should have been deposited in the Libreria Civica, at the Biblioteca Statale of Cremona,[44] but it was mixed with more than one hundred other “relics” coming from the “Cerani donation” (1893) and some from the “Fiorini Collection” (1930).[45]

In 1976, the collection transferred in use to the School of Lutherie more than twenty years before was taken back to the Museo Civico and displayed in the Manfredini Hall, and in 1979 a part of it (only the items Sacconi “recognized” as original from Stradivari's workshop, that he classified in 1972[46]) was exhibited in the new location of the Museo Stradivariano in via Palestro. In 2001, the items formerly displayed in the Museo Stradivariano came back to the Manfredini Hall in the Museo Civico, and then were assigned – together with those not exhibited – to the Museo del Violino, where they are displayed only partially and are not as much available to visitors as they were in their past locations.

Who knows, maybe someone smarter than me will be able to find what I missed about the events that led to this cession, but considering the results I had at the end of my research I must say that the sources I studied don't specify unequivocally how the Municipality of Cremona got the items of the former Salabue Collection in 1930.

If it were confirmed that the procedure followed to acquire the collection was irregular, one should wonder if the deeds that the Municipality or anyone on its behald drew up were legal.

I don't have the power to say which legal institute or administrative organ should resolve the issue, and I don't pretend to be an expert on that, but my thirty-year long administration experience in the public institution allows me to say that this complicated matter could be analyzed, as pure academic exercise, through three different points of view: 1) the Bailment; 2) the Donation; 3) the Ownership.

1) the Bailment (Deposito)

Considering that the law makes no provisions for the “permanent bailment” (Deposito permanente), suggested to Fiorini by his lawyer from Turin, the legal status of the agreement should be regulated by the general rules mentioned in the article 1768 of Codice Civile that defines the Bailment: as “bailee” (depositario), the Municipality should have been required to keep the items, since in the above-mentioned article it is said that “the bailment[47] is that kind of contract by which the first party receives[48] from the other one a movable property[49] and is required to keep it and give it back in kind”.

As we can deduce from any law textbook, a bailment agreement produces several obligations for both parties, the “Bailor” (Depositante) and the “Bailee” (Depositario), that can be summarized as follows:

Main obligations of the Bailor

- (art. 1774 c.c.) to pay any potential cost necessary to return the item;

- (art. 1781 c.c.) to refund the Bailee the expenses payed for keeping the item;

- (art. 1781 c.c.) to pay the potential negotiated fee.

Main obligations of the Bailee

- (art. 1768 c.c.) to safeguard the item as a good family man (if the bailment is for free, any potential fault will be punished less severely);

- (art. 1770 c.c.) do not dispose of the safeguarded item without the previous consent of the Bailor (at risk of being accused of theft) and do not entrust anyone else with it (sub-bailment = sub-deposito) without the previous consent of the Bailor;

- (art. 1771 c.c.) to return the item as soon as the Bailor (or anyone who has a legal permission to obtain the return of the item – art. 1177) asks for it;

- (art. 1775 c.c.) to refund the Bailor the outcomes eventually got from the item.

Therefore, given that the sub-bailment by the Bailee is forbidden, one can wonder if the commodate of the Fiorini Collection items to the International School of Lutherie, from 1956 to 1976, was legitimate and, for the same reason, one should wonder if also the transfer of the Fiorini Collection items to the Museo del Violino Foundation in 2013 is legal, since the Foundation too is a different legal person from the Municipality, which is the official “Bailee”.

Moreover, I don't know if any legitimate Giuseppe Fiorini's heir is still alive, but in that case, as long as it are within the sixth degree, could they request the return of the items, or could they change the nature of the extant agreement? And if there is none, who would be the legal owner of the items?

Art. 386 of the Italian Codice Civile says: “In the absence of any heir, the inheritance is tranferred to the National Administration (Stato). The acquisition is ex-officio without any written acceptance and it is not possible to renounce”.

Is this rule still in force? Yes, it seems so. In a recent piece (May 3rd, 2016) on the Italian newspaper “Il fatto quotidiano”, Ferdinando Regis talked about the fact that the Lega Party and the Italian Democratic Party proposed to the Italian Parliament three new laws, in order to modify the Codice Civile on inheritance, especially trying to let the municipalities to first inherit the pending properties (not the movable properties!). Only after the refusal of the Municipality, the National Administration can inherit them.

Should the Fiorini Collection be declared a national property, maybe from a practical point of view nothing would change, since the National Administration could decide to keep the Fiorini Collection in the Museo del Violino, in the form of a bailment or a commodate, but the essence of the situation would be clearly very different.

2) the Donation (Donazione)

Should the Authorities recognize the donation, the matter would be solved, since the Municipality would be the legal owner of the items. But starting from when?

3) the Possession (Possesso)

Should the two above-mentioned forms of agreement not be recognized and given that the Municipality of Cremona exercised undeniably an possession for more than eighty years, could it claim the usucaption right?

Art. 1164 of the Italian Codice Civile says: “When the possession corresponds to the execution of a real right on someone else's thing, it is not possible to gain the property of said thing, unless the agreement that regulates its ownership has changed because of the intervention of a third party against his/her opposition to the right of the owner. The usucaption will have effect from the date of the modification of the right of the ownership”. Concerning the issue at hand, when and who changed that right?

About the term, usually the usucaption of a movable propertie starts after 10 years of “possession bona fide” and after 20 years of “possession mala fide”, but I wonder if that can be applicable to cultural heritage too, since there is no doubt that the Stradivari relics are “particularly important movable properties, given that they are extremely relevant to art and cultural history”; therefore, they should be protected by the current law called “Codice dei Beni Culturali e del Paesaggio” (D. L. 2004, n. 41), that says in its art. 44, c. 6, among other things: “For all that is not specifically regulated by this article, the current rules on bailment (deposito) and commodate (comodato) will be applied”.

In conclusion, the acquisition of the Fiorini Collection by the Municipality of Cremona seems to have been quite difficult at the beginning and to have become more and more complicated over the years. I hope this reasoning of mine will encourage someone else to dutifully clarify this matter, mostly to answer to the substantial question, even if it were only theoretical, that I posed in the title of this article.

Gianpaolo Gregori

January 2018

English translation by Cecilia Gregori


[1] GREGORI Gianpaolo, «Dalle origini ai nostri giorni le vicende del Museo Stradivariano», in: Colloqui cremonesi, n° 77/1987.

[2] MOSCONI Andrea – TORRESANI Carlo, Il Museo Stradivariano di Cremona, Milano, Electa, 1987, p. 21.

[3] SANTORO Elia, Giuseppe Fiorini e i cimeli stradivariani, contributo alla storia del Museo Stradivariano, Annali della Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica di Cremona, XXXVIII/2 1987, Cremona, Linograf, 1988.

[4] CACCIATORI Fausto (edited by), Antonio Stradivari. Disegni – Modelli – Forme, Cremona, Museo del Violino, 2016.

[5] Archivio di Stato di Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651, Lascito Ponzone, prot. n. 4752, April 27th, 1929.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] SANTORO Elia, cit.

[8] «Cav. Fiorini give the town of Cremona his collection of Antonio Stradivari relics», in: Il regime fascista, May 15th 1929, p. 5.

[9] See: Santoro Elia, cit., p. 45, he mentions a passage of a letter Fiorini wrote to Anelli on November 17th 1929, but he doesn't specify its location.

[10] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 117/6.

[11] «Collezione di cimeli stradivariani donata al Museo», in: Il regime fascista, April 17th 1930, p. 7.

[12] «Collezione di cimeli stradivariani donati al Museo di Cremona», in: Corriere della Sera, April 18th 1930, p. 5.

[13] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Fondo Bacchetta, 11/5.1.

[14] See: Giuffrida Armando, Contributo allo studio della circolazione dei beni culturali in ambito nazionale, Milano, Giuffré, 2008.

[15] See: BUCCELLI Paola, Scuola Superiore della Pubblica Amministrazione, Ricerca, Valorizzazione e fruizione dei beni culturali tra gestione diretta ed indiretta. Normativa nazionale, pp. 8-9, in:http://sna.gov.it/www.sspa.it/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Capitolo_I_parte_II.pdf

[16] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 117/12.

[17] Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651

[18] Ibidem.

[19] An original copy of the printed card is kept in the Libreria Civica, at the Biblioteca Statale of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 113/2.

[20] Father Camelli communicated the number on October 21st, with the l’Elenco complessivo degli oggetti depositati in Museo dal Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini (Complete List of the Items Cav. Giuseppe Fiorini Deposited in the Museum); two versions of the list are kept in: 1) Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1652; 2) Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica di Cremona, Ms. Civ. 118/8.

[21] Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651, file prot. 13087 dated 29.10.1930, in attachment the previous card registered with the numbers 6061 dated 17.5.1930 and 4752 dated 25 and 19.5.1929. One the four extant typed copies of the dee, not signed, is kept in the Biblioteca Statale e Libreria of Cremona, because it was probably kept with the “Cozio Carteggio” when in 1973 prof. Alfredo Puerari, director pro-tempore of the Museo Civico, delivered it, according to what Santoro say; cf. Santoro, cit.

[22] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 119.

[23] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 117/6.

[24] «La sala stradivariana nel Civico Museo e la donazione Fiorini (Il segreto di Stradivari)», in: Cremona, October 1930, pp. 613-619.

[25] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 118/1 and Museo Civico“Ala-Ponzone”, register of correspondence.

[26] Museo Civico“Ala-Ponzone”, correspondence archive.

[27] Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651.

[28] Biblioteca Statale e Libreria Civica of Cremona, Ms. Civ. 118/22.

[29] Museo Civico “Ala-Ponzone”, correspondence archive, n. 1432, Fiorini's letter to Camelli dated 1.6.1932; Archivio di Stato di Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1652, Camelli's message to the Podestà dated 4.6.1932, prot. 10541 dated 6.6.1934.

[30] Museo Civico “Ala-Ponzone”, correspondence archive, n. 1873, Guido Bianchi's letter from Venice dated May 12th 1934.

[31] Santoro, cit., p. 45.

[32] The papers are kept in: Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651.

[33] Museo Civico “Ala-Ponzone”, correspondence archive, 1932 , n. 1560.

[34] A copy of the letter sent to father Camelli is kept in the Museo Civico “Ala-Ponzone”, correspondence archive.

[35] Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651.

[36] Ibidem.

[37] Museo Civico “Ala-Ponzone”, correspondence archive.

[38] Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651.

[39] Ibidem

[40] See note 29.

[41] Archivio di Stato of Cremona, Comune di Cremona, Modern Section, B. 1651.

[42] Cozio di Salabue Ignazio Alessandro, Carteggio (Transcription by Renzo Bacchetta), Milano, Cordani, 1950.

[43] See: GREGORI Gianpaolo, The Inventories of luthery relics in Cremona, 2014, in: http://www.archiviodellaliuteriacremonese.it/en/articles.

[44] Santoro, cit.

[45] See: GREGORI Gianpaolo, Luthiery Relics at the Libreria Civica of Cremona, in: www.archiviodellaliuteriacremonese.it/articoli. 2015

[46] SACCONI Simeone Ferdinando, I segreti di Stradivari, Cremona, Libreria del Convegno, 1972.

[47] It is a true contract, to be finalised with the delivering of the item, and it envisages some obligations (v. 1376 c.c.), to fullfil in a free form (1325 c.c.) and in continuing implementation.

[48] The delivering can be traditio brevi manu, that is when the holder come into possession of the item. It can't be costituto possessorio because it implies that the owner becomes the holder, while the depository come into possession of the item.

[49] Therefore, properties are not included. But it seems that all the movable properties are included.