Minstrels in Art

Images of musicians in the museum collection (17th to 20th century)

Rhythmic composition in yellow green minor ((1919)) by Roy de MaistreArt Gallery of New South Wales

Sitar Instrumental

Music defined

The Oxford dictionary defines music as vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. It is an art of sound in time that expresses  emotions through the elements rhythm, melody, harmony and colour.

Listening to music (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Music is universal

Music is an aspect of all human societies, a culturally universal entity. The creation of music is commonly divided into musical composition, musical improvisation, and musical performance. Music enlivens the soul in its different forms and formats. 

Village Drummers (1901/1999) by Yasala BalaihSalar Jung Museum

Happy music

Who creates music?

Music is delivered by singers, and instrument players, called by many names like singers, musicians and minstrels. Many humans also hum to themselves thus creating their own music, or play an instrument as practice or enjoyment in their own space and time!

Salar Jung Museum (2000/2010)Salar Jung Museum

The Salar Jung Museum Collection

All over the world musicians have been depicted in art either through sculpture or in paintings thus substantiating their role in human existence. 

Let us explore some depictions of musicians and minstrels in art in different media from the collection of Salar Jung Museum!

Megha Malhar Ragini (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Ragini Megha Malhar

This Ragamala painting depicts Ragini Megha Malhar, with Lord Krishna dancing. Two ‘gopis’ on either side,  with musical instrument. Flower creeper in gold color and green around the artwork. Arched panel on top, Mughal-Rajasthani mixed style painting from the 19th century.

Raja Mia Kapoor Singh with musicians (1800/1800)Salar Jung Museum

Sitar Music

Indian Raja enjoying music

An interesting painting showing  a king Raja Mia Kapoor Singh seated under a canopy enjoying huqqa. Three musicians are also shown, a person playing a tanpura, two other standing behind the 'raja' (king) playing cymbals. An attendant is lighting the huqqa.

Village minstrel (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Indian folk music

Village musician

Figure of a village minstrel with a bow like instrument, made out of clay, from India, dated to the 20th century.

Princess listening to music (1700/1700)Salar Jung Museum

Indian Veena Instrumental

Princess listening to music

A painting showing a princess seated on a carpet enjoying ‘huqqa’, attended by fly-whisk bearer behind and being entertained by three lady musicians seated in front, on terrace having  garden in the background,with double gold borders, from Rajasthan, circa 1700.

Todi Ragini (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Todi Ragini

Depiction of Indian musical mode Todi ragini which shows a forlorn woman in the forest, alone with a musical instrument. She plays the 'Todi' and the deer seem mesmerized by her music. She is waiting for her beloved who has not come, a Ragamala painting from Deccan, 19th century.

Vocal concert (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Vocal Concert

Modern painting by D. Doraiswamy, representing five figures; consisting of a vocal musician in the centre and four accompanists, two on either side, dated to circa 1965.

Lady musician (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Indian Sarangi AhirBairavi

Lady musician

A lady minstrel holding sarangi, a stringed instrument in her left hand, painted in red, green and gold. She has a soft expression, probably playing soulful music, figure is made from ivory, dated to the 18th century.

Lady playing veena (1600/1699)Salar Jung Museum

Indian Veena Instrumental

Lady playing the 'veena'

Painting showing a noble lady seated on a yellow carpet, on a terrace playing on a veena/sitar, a musical instrument, she wears interesting headgear and mahawar , a red lac dye on her dainty feet, it is the rainy season, Uniara style, from Rajasthan, dated to 17th century.

Man holding musical instrument (1775/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Chinese music

Man with musical instrument

Figure of a musician seated and wearing grey crackled glazed coat and playing on a musical instrument. His face is smiling, a brown cap on head; detachable, made from terracotta, China, dated to late 18th century.

Musician (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Mandolin Music


Painted porcelain figure of a bearded musician playing on a mandolin, wearing blue jacket and mauve trousers, standing on a green base, from England, dated to the 20th century.

Nobleman enjoying music. (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Sitar Instrumental

Nobleman enjoying music

A nobleman seated; enjoying music by five ladies seated in front, playing on stringed instruments, the sitar and one on a drum instrument;  a dholak, two attendants are at his back, a Deccan miniature painting, dated to the 19th century. 

'Chausar piece' (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Mridangam music

Chausar piece

'Chauser' piece shaped as the seated figure of a lady musician playing on a drum, coloured red, gold and green. 'Chausar' was a precursor to the popular game chess, figure is made in ivory, dated to the 19th century.

Musicians (1900/1999) by Abanindranath TagoreSalar Jung Museum

Sitar Instrumental

A group of musicians

Polychrome wood cut by Abanindranath Tagore, depicting three ladies and four men enjoying music, in green, pink, and blue colours. They sit before a curved arch in the background, artwork is dated to the 20th century.

Man playing on a flute (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Flute music

Man playing on a flute

Figure of a musician playing a flute, on a drum-shaped metal pedestal, made in ivory, from England, dated to the 19th century.

Musician (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

Violin Instrumental

Musician with violin

Papier-mache  figure of a musician standing on a rectangular platform playing a violin, from India, dated to the 20th century.

Musician (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum


Clay figure of musician

Musician with string instrument which seems to be a rabab which was introduced to Indian classical music around the 14th and 15th centuries. The musician is sporting a beard and wearing traditional garments, and sits cross-legged holding his instrument, from India, 20th century.

Musicians (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum


Ivory carved to represent a group of musicians with a grotesque figure on top, holding a parasol and an inscribed banner, from China, dated to the 19th century.

Musicians (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Japanese music


Ivory carved to represent a group of three music players. They are having happy faces as they play on their instruments. The object is called a ‘Netsuke’, a Japanese artform mostly made from ivory. This figure is dated to the 19th century.

The spell of music (1900/1999) by Abdur Rahman ChughtaiSalar Jung Museum

Sitar Music

The spell of music

A musician lady seated beside a house folding her hands at her back with a string instrument, maybe a sitar in a meditative mood. Cypress trees & flower plants behind the parapet. A plain golden band round the painting by A.R. Chughtai, dated to the 20th century.

Musicians (1900/1999) by A. DuvalSalar Jung Museum



Painting on canvas representing a dancing girl in red shaded dress, a woman at her left, both seated and holding tambourine, by artist A. Duval. Wooden frame with eight beaded panels and eight shell inlaid panels bearing an Arabic inscription, from Egypt, dated to 20th century.

Credits: Story

Text and Curation : Soma Ghosh 
Photography : M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali 
Research Assistance : Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh 
Special Thanks to Dr. A. Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.

References – 

1.     https://www.dictionary.com/browse/music 
2.     https://www.gilbertgalindo.com/importanceofmusic 
3.     https://www.india-instruments.com/encyclopedia-rabab.html

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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