Lyre Guitar

Maker: Possibly Joseph Pons (French, born 1776) (probably a son of César Pons)

Date: ca. 1805

Geography: Paris, France

Culture: French

Medium: Mahogany, spruce, ebony, brass, nickel-silver, gilding

Dimensions: Height: 34 1/4 in. (87 cm)
Width: 14 3/8 in. (36.5 cm)

Classification: Chordophone-Lute-plucked-fretted

Credit Line: Purchase, Clara Mertens Bequest, in memory of André Mertens, 1998

Accession Number: 1998.121


This form of the guitar was created about 1785. The columnar arms supporting the yoke are veneered in mahogany. The guitar has six single courses of strings. A printed label inside the instrument reads: “Pons / fils / luthier, / Rue du Grand Hurleur / No. 5 / A Paris, an 13.” The phrase “an 13” refers to the thirteenth year (1804–1805) of the French Revolutionary Calendar.
Renaissance paintings by Lorenzo Costa and Raffaellino Garbo show lyre-guitars held upright (possibly interpretations of incised strings in classical bas-reliefs), as they were properly held by the player. Essentially, the lyre-guitar was a modified version of the lyre of antiquity, but with a fingerboard and six strings. English lyre-guitars were sold from 1811 as the six-string "Apollo" lyre of Edward Light and the twelve-string "Imperyal Lyre" of Angelo Benedetto Ventura.