The pipa is a pear-shaped lute which had migrated from Central Asia into China during the Han and Sui dynasties (1st-7th century). It is one of the most popular Chinese instruments with a huge repertoire for solo performance, orchestra, opera, and storytelling ensembles.

This particular pipa dates from the Ming dynasty and the back and sides features a ‘beehive’ of 110 hexagonal ivory plaques, each carved with Daoist, Buddhist, or Confucian figures and symbols signifying prosperity, happiness, and good luck. The front is relatively plain but the ivory string holder bears a scene featuring four figures and a bridge, cursive inscription, and at the lip, a bat motif with leafy tendrils.

Materials: wood, ivory, bone, silk. Dimensions of body: 94 (l) x 25.3 (w) cm. Accession number: MMA.50.145.74

Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art