18th Century Tanbur

1 • An 18th-Century Tanbur

Turkey, early to mid-18th century
135 cm long; wood, mother-of-pearl,
tortoiseshell, gold leaf, ivory

This is the oldest-known surviving tanbur in existence, along with a strikingly similar instrument held in the storage vaults of the Victoria & Albert Museum (inventory number 576-1872).

Conceived at a time when the tanbur was greatly in favour at the Ottoman courts – and beginning to take shape into the instrument we recognize today – it has brought to light valuable information on the tanbur’s subsequent development and evolution. These findings have been outlined in a report commissioned by its owner – His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani – entitled The Awakening of a Tanbur.

Also commissioned was its complete restoration, conducted by luthier Karim Othman-Hassan, allowing the instrument to be played and heard again. A recording was made by the eminent Ottoman historian and musician Kudsi Erguner, bringing to light the forgotten sound of a much loved Ottoman instrument – quite different from the tanburs of today – and ensuring this sound is preserved for future generations.

It is a product – both in its creation and revival 300 years later – of extraordinary music patronage.

On loan to the exhibition.

M. Levett and Mlle Glavani in Turkish Costume. © Musée du Louvre
M. Levett and Mlle Glavani in Turkish Costume. © Musée du Louvre

M. Levett and Mlle Glavani in Turkish Costume was painted by Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702–1789) around 1740, about the same time the exhibited tanbur was made. It shows Mr Levett, a merchant friend of Liotard’s, smoking a chibouk as he contemplates the tanbur playing of Mlle Glavany, the daughter of the French ambassador to the Crimea.