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Water, Pine and Stone Retreat. Qianlong  Large picture | Small picture
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 8 October 2009: Lot 1813 
 
   

1813
A BOXWOOD IMITATION RHINOCEROS HORN LIBATION CUP
QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
masterfully carved after a rhinoceros horn libation cup, the exterior with a detailed continuous landscape depicting groups of scholars followed by their attendants carrying qins travelling through a rocky mountain scenery amidst wutong and pine trees, crossing bridges over flowing streams with boats moored on the banks, some hiking towards pavilions, while others meditate, the openwork handle on one side formed from twin wutong trees and a gnarled pine tree with branches flowing over the lip of the interior, the smooth dark brown patina imitating the dark surface of rhinoceros horn (fitted box)
16.5 CM.

PROVENANCE
Honeychurch Antiques, Hong Kong, 1990.
LITERATURE
Jan Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn carving in China, London, 1999, pl. 375.
Thomas Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. R3.

Carvings of wooden reproductions of rhinoceros horn cups are extremely rare and the present vessel is even more unusual as it has a companion cup carved in white jade, formerly in the C.B. Kitson and N.B. Pilcher Collections and sold twice in our London rooms, 18th October 1960, lot 146, and again 10th October 1987, lot 287, illustrated in Robert Kleiner, Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 71 (fig. 1). The jade cup, which is also unusual amongst jade carvings, is identical in every main detail, but in addition it bears a Da Qing Qianlong fanggu ('Exemplifying Antiquity during the Qianlong reign of the Great Qing dynasty') six-character mark and an inscription of Qianlong's poem dated to the early Spring of 1777. It is likely that both cups are after an earlier, possibly Ming dynasty, rhinoceros horn cup since the mark on the base refers to an antique object being copied. Although the prototype has not been found, to have the same form and design made in two different mediums suggests the emperor's appreciation for the original vessel and furthermore, it can be assumed that both the boxwood and jade cups are the product of the Palace Workshop carvers who were familiar with and had the opportunity to carve very close copies after the original.

Aesthetically this cup is most pleasing and although its jade companion displays exceedingly high standards of carving, in terms of artistry, this cup is possibly a superior and rarer object. While jade carvings are produced by the lapidary method, where grinding wheels and abrasives are used, wood carving relied on more simple tools and a more literate approach. Many of the fine wood carvings were produced by the scholar-literati who had a close relationship with their material and made pieces with an innate passion. Whereas jade carvers tended to decorate jade, wood carvers imposed their skills on a higher level of artistry upon their medium.

Few examples of wood carvings after rhinoceros horn cups can be found although two smaller cups are illustrated in Chapman, op.cit., pls. 376 and pl. 378, the former from the collection of Mrs. Riddle, decorated with scholars in a landscape, and the latter shaped after a magnolia blossom. Compare also a cup carved with landscape motif, from the collection of Mrs. Angela Chua included in Fok, op.cit., pl. R4; another carved vessel in the form of a libation cup sold in our New York rooms, 24th April 1975, lot 232; and one made of chenxiangmu (lignaloes) wood sold in these rooms, 10th April 2006, lot 1641, following the form of a rhinoceros horn cup with a continuous landscape scene depicting thatched huts tucked amongst rocks and dense cluster of pine trees.

Large rhinoceros horn cups which served as inspiration for this vessel are rare, although one carved with the motif of 'One Hundred Boys at Play', formerly in the collection of the Fowler Museum, California, is published ibid., pl. 155, attributed to the 17th century; and a large Ming dynasty cup carved in high relief with scenes from the Lanting xu ('Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion'), sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27th May 2008, lot 1709.



Fig. 1 a carved jade libation cup, mark and period of Qianlong
After Robert Kleiner, Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman

 

 

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