French, 18th century
The lyre-guitar was popular in Europe during the vogue for Greco-Roman antiquity that prevailed in the late 18th- and early 19th centuries following the earlier excavations at Herculaneum. Made in the form of a modified Greek kithara, the instrument was also known in France as "lyre anacréontique" and in England as "Apollo lyre." The decorative dolphins on the pegbox allude to the frequent reference in classical mythology to the predilection of this animal for music, as exemplified in the tale of Arion. Corinthian sailors travelling aboard ship with Arion resolved to rob and kill him. As a last request, Arion asked if he could sing to his lyre before being thrown into the sea. The sound of his music was so sweet that it summoned the dolphins. When Arion was cast overboard, one of the dolphins carried him to safety on the cliffs of Taenarum
The back and sides of the body of this handsome instrument are covered with strips of curly maple and red cedar separated by narrow lines of ebony and maple. The soundboard is purfled with ivory and ebony band inlay. The two soundholes are covered with filigree roses cut from mother-of- pearl. Curved arms support the large peg-box, which is covered with ebony and flanked by two gilded dolphins. The fingerboard is veneered with ebony and set with 15 ivory frets. The nine strings are tuned by pegs of ivory. On a small square of ivory set into the bac of the peg-box is the engraved inscription: "J. Charles / à / Marseilles". Overall height 87.6 cm.
The Belle Skinner Collection
Accession No. 4581.1960