Art/ Collection/ Art Object


14th–16th century
Carved wood, skin, gesso, gilding
Height: 42 15/16 in. (109 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Clara Mertens Bequest, in memory of André Mertens, 1989
Accession Number:
Not on view
The ancient "silk route", running from the Mediterranean to Sian in east central China, made Central Asia a meeting place of many cultures. This lute, an extraordinary example of musical exchange between East and West, is similar to instruments played by angels depicted in seventh-century Buddhist cave paintings. It offers some insight into the development of the modern sgra-snyan. The body, with two skin-covered chambers, is a rare example of an archaic transitional form that seems to point to the Afghan robab, and various Himalayan lute types. Decorative elements, such as green-colored skins, like those of the damarn, and the portraits of Buddha and musicians, rendered on painted ivory with gold leaf, are typical of fifteenth-century Tibet. The back, fingerboard, and pegbox reveal cartouches and palmettes reminiscent of seventeenth-century Persia. Tin leafing shows through as a silvery underlayer in a worn section of the instrument. Painted gesso adheres to the surface, the result of an ancient gilding process known as adoratura. Originally, there were six strings attached to this instrument, but the pegbox was shortened to accommodate five, with a possible sixth string attached to a side peg. Despite the appearance of Buddha and his musicians, the sgra-snyan was not used in religious settings, but accompanied secular song.
Jayson Kerr Dobney, Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. First Printing. @2015 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. New York, 2015, p. 44, ill.

Related Objects


Date: 19th century Medium: Skull, cloth, wax Accession: 89.4.213 On view in:Not on view

Rag Dung

Date: mid-20th century Medium: Copper and tin Accession: 1980.340.1 On view in:Gallery 680

Rag Dung

Date: mid-20th century Medium: Copper and tin Accession: 1980.340.2 On view in:Gallery 680

Pipa (琵琶 )

Date: late 16th–early 17th century Medium: Wood, ivory, bone, silk Accession: 50.145.74 On view in:Not on view


Date: ca. 1900 Medium: Wood, ivory, parchment, metal Accession: 1982.143.2 On view in:Not on view