The Qin (Zither)The qin is the classical instrument of China. Its origin is obscure. The present form, with seven unfretted strings, probably emerged only in the late Han period (1st century A.D.), although, according to legend, it is supposed to have been played in the time of Confucius (6th century B.C.) or even earlier. The zithers found in archaeological excavations and seen in pottery models up to the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) are all of the se type, as seen in the case of Han pottery figures in the present exhibition. The earliest representations of the qin in its present form are on decorated bricks found in fifth-century tombs near Nanjing (see illustration). The thirteen studs (hui) indicate finger positions. Strings of varying thickness are made of twisted silk. Each part of the instrument is identified by an anthropomorphic or zoomorphic name, and cosmology is ever-present: for example, the curved upper board of light wu-tong (paulownia) wood symbolizes Heaven, while the flat lower board of hardwood symbolizes Earth. Qin over a hundred years old are considered the best; an instrument's age can be determined by the pattern of cracks in the lacquer.Endowed with cosmological and metaphysical significance and empowered to communicate the deepest human emotions, this zither, beloved of Confucius and all sages, is the most prestigious instrument in China. Han-dynasty writers claimed that the qin helped to cultivate character, understand morality, supplicate gods and demons, enhance life, and enrich learning. Ming-dynasty literati (1368-1644) suggested that the qin be played outdoors in a mountain setting, a garden, or a small pavilion, preferably near an old pine tree while incense perfumes the air. A serene moonlit night was considered an appropriate time for performance. QinMing dynasty (1368-1644), 1634Wood, lacquer, jade, and silk stringsPurchase, Clara Mertens Bequest, in memory of André Mertens, Seymour Fund, The Boston Foundation Gift, Gift of Elizabeth M. Riley, by exchange, and funds from various donors, 19991999.93 Many Ming-dynasty princes, starting with the sons of the founder and continuing until the last generation before the dynasty's fall in the mid-seventeenth century, were accomplished musicians, and some made important contributions to musicology and musical theory. The first prince of Lu (1568-1614), brother of Emperor Shenzhong (Wanli), was an immensely rich man, and hundreds of qin were made for his household and descendants in the last years of the Ming dynasty. All bear the inscription of the Princedom of Lu, and all are numbered. About ten Prince Lu qin are extant; the one in the Metropolitan Museum, number 18, dated 1634, is the earliest. The highest-numbered Prince Lu qin known is number 295. It is dated 1644, the year the Ming dynasty came to an end. The back of the Metropolitan's qin bears the maker's seal and date, the words "Capital Peace," and a twenty-character poem by Jingyi Zhuren (d. 1670) that reads:The moonlight is being reflected by the river YangziA light breeze is blowing over clear dewdrops,Only in a tranquil placeCan one comprehend the feeling of eternity.
Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
Inscription: Inside soundhole, circular inscription: "Manufactured by the [prince of the] state of Lu in the year guiyou of the Chongzhen reign of the great Ming; #18."
Marking: 1) (on back at head) the title "honghe"(Capital Peace); 2) (on back below title) the seal "Luguo shi quan" (Heirloom of the Lu State); 3) (below seal) 22-character poem that reads: The moonlight is being reflected by the river Yangtze, A light breeze is blowing over clear dewdrops, Only in a tranquil place Can one comprehend the feeling of eternity. Signed, Jingyi Zhuren.
Jeff Hsu's Oriental Art, Taipei, Taiwan
Ed. James R. Houghton. Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977-2008. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2009, pg. 77-79, cat. 00000000000.
"Recent Acquisitions: A Selection 1998-1999." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (1999), pg. 78, ill.