A carved rhinoceros horn archaistic 'Five Chilong' libation cup, 17th century

A carved rhinoceros horn archaistic 'Five Chilong' libation cup, 17th century

Lot 3018. A carved rhinoceros horn archaistic 'Five Chilong' libation cup, 17th century; 15 cm., 6 in. Estimate 800,000 — 1,000,000 HKD . Lot sold 1,600,000 HKD. Photo Sotheby's

the horn of a warm chestnut-brown tone, modelled with flaring sides rising to a bracket-lobed rim from a small foot of conforming shape, decorated in low relief around the exterior with a frieze of taotie masks against a dense leiwen ground, beneath a key-fret band encircling the mouth, carved in high relief with three chilong with sinuous bodies and bifurcated tails clambering up on one side, reticulated with a further pair grasping the rim on the opposite side forming the handle, wood stand.

Provenance: Bluett & Sons, London, 1975.

Exhibited: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth - Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong, 2003-2005, cat. no. 48.
Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Spring 2001.

Note: The present cup is notable for its rich colour and rhythmical depiction of the chilong modelled in the round against the finely worked low-relief surface. The playful and creative rendering of the chilong brings a sense of movement and strength to the composition. This piece belongs to a well-known group of rhinoceros horn vessels fashioned and decorated in an archaistic style, adorned with motifs found on archaic bronzes, jades and lacquer. Such vessels were favoured by the nobility who were keen collectors of ancient artefacts. Carvers were able to transfer the ritual heritage of archaic bronze vessels to mediums such as rhinoceros horn, ceramics and jade. By fusing traditional decorative styles with contemporary motifs a fresh aesthetic was achieved, as seen on this example where the archaistic design band and square section is combined with a single chilongto form the handle.

A libation cup of similar form and decoration, from the collection of Stella Pitt-Rivers, was sold in our London rooms, 15th June 1979, lot 130; a cup without the stepped foot, was also sold in our London rooms, 13th May 1988, lot 484; and another was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30th November 2011, lot 2906.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 08 april 2014