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Work Angle harp
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
Objects from everyday life
The harp may have been the Egyptians' favorite musical instrument and was represented on paintings and relief sculptures as early as the Old Kingdom. The trigon appeared much later during the New Kingdom. This angular shape, with a vertical sound box, came from the East. The instrument in the Louvre is the only example of its type in such good condition.
A virtually intact antique instrument
The exceptionally well-conserved large instrument is a trigon or angle harp. It consists of a cedar sound box and a tailpiece made of maritime pine, fitted with 21 alternating light and dark dowels. One end of the strings was wound around these dowels. The other end was attached to a suspension rod into the sound box and wrapped in green leather. The top of the instrument is sealed by small piece of wood covered with a cutout leather decor featuring a phoenix amid lotus flowers.
Like all Egyptian harps, this one is vertical: the musician held it upright, the wood frame against his chest, and plucked the strings with his fingers. These strings, a modern addition, were probably originally made of gut.
The lack of musical notation system in Egypt and the fact that we do not know the diameter or tension of the original strings means that we cannot have an accurate idea of the type of music produced by the instrument. By working with a replica, however, we were able to deduce that it had an extensive range and a low, muffled sound.
The number of notches on the suspension rod is larger than the number of dowels on the tailpiece, proof that this harp was carefully tuned.
The Egyptians' favorite instrument
The harp, the Egyptians' favorite musical instrument, was used as early as the Old Kingdom. The harp depicted on many mastabas is an arched instrument with a long curved handle and few strings. The angle harp, invented in the East during the second millennium BC, first appeared in Egypt during the New Kingdom. The two types of harps resulted in a wide variety of shapes and decoration.
The instrument grew in popularity throughout the Greek-Roman period. It was used both for private purposes, where it accompanied songs and dances, as illustrated in tomb decors, and for religious purposes, to accompany prayers to the gods.
- ANDREU G., RUTSCHOWSCAYA M.-H., ZIEGLER C., L’Egypte ancienne au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, notice 85.
- ZIEGLER C., Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités Egyptiennes – Catalogue des instruments de musique égyptiens, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1979, notice n° 122.
After the New Kingdom, 1069-332 BC
Maritime pine, cedar, colored leather; modern strings
H.: 1.1 m; W.: 0.71 m
Purchased from the Henri Salt Collection, 1826
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