Joy of Museums Virtual Tours

Virtual Tours of Museums, Art Galleries, and Historic Sites

Ming-Dynasty Pipa

Pipa MET DP216711

Ming-Dynasty Pipa

This Ming-Dynasty (1368 – 1644) Pipa is a four-stringed musical instrument, with a pear-shaped wooden body with a number of frets. The pear-shaped instrument may have existed in China as early as the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). The name “pipa” is made up of two Chinese syllables, “pí” (琵) and “pá” (琶). These refer to the way the instrument is played – “pí” is to strike outward with the right hand, and “pá” is to pluck in towards the palm.

The pipa is one of the most famous Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China. Several related musical instruments in Asia are derived from the Pipa. Until the mid-tenth century, the Pipa was held guitar style, and its twisted silk strings were plucked with a large triangular plectrum. Toward the end of the Tang dynasty (618–907), musicians began using their fingernails which gaining popularity and that became the new style. To help the fingers, the instrument began to be held in a more upright position.

The back and sides of this Pipa feature more than 100 hexagonal ivory plaques, each carved with 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. The lip has a bat motif with leafy tendrils. Also, there are a spider and a bird, two men with a fish on the frets and a trapezoidal plaque. The finial echoes the bat motif which signifies good luck.


  • The Pipa has been developed into a modern version and is in use today. Have you seen or heard a modern Pipa?
  • Have you seen other versions of the Chinese Pia in different Asian cultures?

The Musical Instruments Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Ming-Dynasty Pipa

  • Title:              Ming-Dynasty Pipa
  • Date:              late 16th–early 17th century
  • Culture:         Chinese
  • Geography:   China
  • Period:           Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
  • Materials:     Wood, ivory, bone, silk
  • Dimensions:  L. 37 × W. 9 15/16 × D. 1 1/8 in. (94 × 25.3 × 2.9 cm)
  • Museum:      Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art

MET European Paintings Collection

MET Modern and Contemporary Art Collection

MET Greek and Roman Art Collection

MET Egyptian Art Collection

MET Asian Art Collection

MET Ancient Near Eastern Art Collection

MET American Wing Collection

MET Islamic Art Collection

MET Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

MET European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Collection

MET Medieval Art Collection

MET Drawings and Prints Collection

MET Costume Institute Collection

MET Arms and Armor Collection

MET Photograph Collection

MET Musical Instrument Collection

Explore the MET


“A single tree makes no forest;
one string makes no music.”

– Chinese Proverb


Photo Credit: 1) Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Popular this Week

Museums, Art Galleries & Historical Sites - Virtual Tours
Japanese Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings
Ancient Artifacts - Virtual Tour
Greek Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings
Mesopotamian Art and Artifacts - Virtual Tour
Mission San José - Virtual Tour
Law Code of Hammurabi
Korean Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings
Russian Proverbs and Quotes
Mexican Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings