Conch trumpet, in an embossed silver mount, inlaid with lapis lazuli, turquoise and coral

Accession Number

Conch trumpet, in an embossed silver mount, inlaid with lapis lazuli, turquoise and coral


Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
conch shell, silver, vermeil, lapis lazuli, and coral

20 7/8 in x 9 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in (53 cm x 23.5 cm x 14 cm);20 7/8 in x 9 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in (53 cm x 23.5 cm x 14 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Donald J. Fredman

Label copy
Gallery Rotation Fall 2013
Conch trumpet
19th–20th century
Conch shell, silver, vermeil, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and coral
Gift of Donald J. Fredman, 1982/2.42A
The conch trumpet’s piercing sound is used to summon monks to prayers in Tibet. Conchs are also blown during offering rituals to wrathful deities as part of the somewhat cacophonous music believed to please them. Conch shells are highly prized in landlocked Tibet and are often elaborately ornamented with silver, gilding, and semiprecious stones. Some Tibetan conch trumpets, such as this one, have at their core a very old conch shell that may have been used in an Indian monastery; this one dates to the ninth to twelfth century. The back of the shell still shows the carved outlines of a lotus that surrounded a deity, although the image of the deity itself has been rubbed off after centuries of use.
On the large metal flange are three separate areas delineated by metal beading. The center area contains a vertical row of symbols frequently associated with the Buddha, representing the seven precious possessions of a universal ruler. Their inclusion communicates that the Buddha was regarded as a universal ruler or chakravartin. The seven symbols are, from top to bottom: queen, general, minister, elephant, jewel (on top of the elephant), horse (which resembles a deer, another Buddhist symbol), and an eight-spoked wheel (on top of the horse) that represents the teachings of the Buddha, the eightfold path. The queen, general, and minister are said to represent love, power, and wisdom, while the wheel and the jewel symbolize spiritual and worldly majesty. The elephant and the horse are the Buddha’s vehicles and symbolize inexhaustible strength and speed.

Subject matter
A trumpet for ritual use in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, made of a conch shell adorned with precious metals and semi-precious stones.

Physical Description
An elaborately decorated conch shell trumpet, with extensions and a side chamber made from silver, inlaid with other precious metals and semi-precious stones of turquoise, lapiz lazuli, and mountain coral.

Primary Object Classification
Musical Instrument

Primary Object Type
wind instrument

Additional Object Classification(s)
Musical Instrument

Collection Area

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conch (shell)
musical instruments

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