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A very rare documentary rhinoceros horn 'prunus' libation cup, 17th-18th century, signed You Meiwang. Photo Bonhams.

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The pale amber horn carved as a gnarled prunus trunk with finely turned knots and crevices in the bark, the handle shaped as a slender twisting branch narrowing to thorned spikes and blossoming with prunus flowers and buds, the branch reaching across the rich brown-hued interior. 14.2cm (5 5/8in) long. Sold for £170,500 (€203,849)

Provenance: an important European private collection
Previously on loan to two British museums from the mid 1970s until recently.

Published: J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.140.

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The inscription reads

石腋噴香雪
蜂情逗早春

Which may be translated as

Beneath the rock flew with fragrant snow,
while the bees start hovering in early Spring.

The present cup is superbly carved successfully rendering its naturalistic nature depicting a gnarled trunk with prunus branches issuing blossoms. Compare a related 'prunus' libation cup, 17th century, with a gnarled trunk illustrated in T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pl.112 and also see similar carving of the trunk in cups illustrated ibid. pls.94 and 108; see also J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pl.315.

Exceptional Rhinoceros Horn Libation Cups from an Important European Private Collection

The following three outstanding rhinoceros horn libation cups form part of an important European collection meticulously formed over the last fifty years. The superb works of art are a testament to the collector's eye and connoisseurship.

The three rare rhinoceros horn libation cups were preserved and cherished for years whilst on loan to two British museums from the 1970s until recently.

Few collections of this calibre have ever been formed. The exceptional objects were studiously chosen for their rarity, artistic and craftsmanship merits, representative of the great age of the literati. A decision has been taken to part with these now and allow present collectors the opportunity to enjoy them.

Bonhams. FINE CHINESE ART. London, New Bond Street. 7 Nov 2013 - www.bonhams.com