A_finely_carved__Ode_to_the_Red_Cliff__rhinoceros_horn_libation_cup

A_finely_carved__Ode_to_the_Red_Cliff__rhinoceros_horn_libation_cup2

A finely carved 'Ode to the Red Cliff' rhinoceros horn libation cup. Late Ming / early Qing dynasty. Photo Bonhams

Superbly carved in deep relief to depict a scene from 'Ode to the Red Cliff', depicting Su Dongpo accompanied by two other figures seated on a raft on a fast-flowing river, all below large, cragged rock faces, a cascading waterfall and over-hanging pine and wutong trees, with a scholar and attendant seated on the riverbank, a large gnarled pine tree forming the openwork handle, the horn of a warm honey tone, carved wood stand. 17.5cm wide. (2). Sold for HK$ 2,280,000

明末/清初 犀角雕赤壁賦杯

Provenance來源:  Old English family collection, acquired in the 19th century, and thence by descent to the current owner

The subject matter of 'The Ode to the Red Cliff', the famous poem by the Song dynasty painter Su Shi, was reserved for some of the finest rhinoceros horn libation cups of the late Ming / early Qing dynasty. For an example of similar high quality in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, donated by J. Pierpont Morgan, see Jan Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pg. 210, pl. 289.

A_finely_carved__Ode_to_the_Red_Cliff__rhinoceros_horn_libation_cup3

A_finely_carved__Ode_to_the_Red_Cliff__rhinoceros_horn_libation_cup4

A finely carved 'Ode to the Red Cliff' rhinoceros horn libation cup. Late Ming / early Qing dynasty. Photo Bonhams

Superbly carved in deep relief to depict a scene from 'Ode to the Red Cliff', showing two figures and their attendants seated on a raft on a fast-flowing river, with further figures observing and engaged in various pursuits on the riverbanks, all amidst large over-hanging willow and prunus trees, a large gnarled pine tree forming the openwork handle, a rock face inscribed with a fourteen-character poem, the horn of a dark chocolate brown tone, carved wood stand. 17.3cm wide. (2). Sold for HK$ 2,280,000

明末/清初 犀角雕赤壁賦杯

Provenance來源:  Old English family collection, acquired in the 19th century, and thence by descent to the current owner

A_superb_carved_rhinoceros_horn__floral__libation_cup

A superb carved rhinoceros horn 'floral' libation cup. Late Ming / early Qing dynasty. Photo Bonhams

The sumptuous cup sensitively carved with full naturalistic attention to detail, with lobes emanating from the rim and extending inside, the exterior boldly carved inverying levels of relief with peony, plum blossom and other flowers depicted in luxuriant stages of growth, issuing from long coiling stems depicted intertwined with each other, the horn of a rich brown tone with a tinge of orange. 17.3cm wide. Sold for HK$ 1,020,000

明末/清初 犀角雕花卉紋杯

Provenance來源: Private British collection

A_rare_Arabic_inscribed_rhinoceros_horn_stemcup

A rare Arabic-inscribed rhinoceros horn stemcup. Late Ming dynasty. Photo Bonhams

Of deep rounded form supported on a pronounced splayed foot, incised around the exterior with an Islamic invocation. 10cm high. Sold for HK$ 240,000

晚明 犀角雕梵字紋足杯

Vessels carved from rhinoceros horn are much rarer than more commonly found libation cups which follow the natural form of the horn, and are likely to have been expensive commissions. For an almost identical rhinoceros horn stemcup, incised with a Tianqi reign mark, see an example sold at Sotheby's New York, 23 September 1995, lot 298, and again, 19 March 2007, lot 385.

See also a rhinoceros horn stemcup in the collection of Harvard University Art Museum, illustrated by Thomas Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carvings in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pg. 109, pl. 61.

The Arabic inscription on the stemcup reads:
'Bismi'llah al-rahman al-rahim
sagahum rabbuhum sharaban tuhuran.'

This translates as:
'In the name of God the compassionate the merciful
Their Lord has given them pure wine to drink.'

The source of the quotation is Qur'an Sura 76. The first element of the inscription ('In the name of God . . . ') is the invocation that appears at the head of each sura of the Qur'an.
 
Bonhams. FINE CHINESE ART, 25 May 2011 to 26 May 2011, Hong Kong, Island Shangri-La Hotel www.bonhams.com