A rare rhinoceros horn 'River Landscape' libation cup by Sheng Fugong, Late Ming Dynasty-Early Qing dynasty, 17th century. Photo: Sotheby's.

of conical form, the flaring sides tapering to a rounded square foot, carved around the exterior in high relief with a continuous riverscape, a stream flowing tortuously through jagged cliffs and rocky outcrops cascading into the underside of the foot, one end of the horn set with an openwork handle formed by the gnarled trunk of a lofty pine, twisting through the pierced crevices its branches extending over the rim and onto the interior, the cup inscribed Sheng Fugong in relief within a recessed cartouche on the rock face of the cliff near the handle, and Wenshu cang (collection of Wenshu) in an oval cartouche below the front lip, the horn richly patinated to a rich toffee tone darkening to a deep brown colour on the carved underside, wood stand; width 15.3 cm., 6 in. Estimation 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD. Lot vendu: 4,600,000 HKD

Provenance: Acquired from a European Collection, 1982

ExhibitionMetal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 2004.

Litterature: Jan Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pl. 152.
Thomas Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 160.
Lu Jianchang, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings, Shanghai, 2004, fig. 76

The present cup is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it bears the rare signature of its maker, Sheng Fugong who was probably active in the 17th century. Jan Chapman inThe Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p. 136, lists Sheng amongst recorded carvers and mentions that a four-legged ding, in the collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., also bears his signature on the underside of the piece rendered in the form of a four-character seal Sheng Fugong zuo(Made by Sheng Fugong) and is reputed to be dated to the late Ming period. 

Another interesting aspect of this cup is that there is another seal reading Wenshu cang(Collection of Wenshu) which infers that this carving was admired and collected by the great rhinoceros horn master Zhou Wenshu. For detailed information on Zhou see the notes to another cup in this catalogue (lot 3152) and Jan Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pp. 142-44.

The decoration on this vessel is most unusual and rare. Nature scenes and landscapes, devoid of figures, animals or pavilions, are almost unheard of, making this cup an example of plain natural beauty that accentuates the sense of tranquillity. According to Thomas Fok in Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 219, ‘the aspiration and romantic temperament of 17th century scholars are fully evident.’  A comparable example of a cup with landscape only, formerly in the collection of Thomas Fok, and published ibid., pl. 163, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 31st May 2010, lot 1811; and another with landscape and pine motif, from the collection of Mr. Chun-hung Li, is included ibid., pl. 167.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. Hong Kong | 08 Oct 2013 -www.sothebys.com