A finely carved 'Peony Pavilion' rhinoceros horn libation cup ; late Ming-early Qing dynasty, 17th century 

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Lot 3039. A finely carved 'Peony Pavilion' rhinoceros horn libation cup, late Ming-early Qing dynasty, 17th century. Estimate HKD 2,000,000 - HKD 3,000,000 (USD 260,000 - USD 390,000). Price Realised HKD 4,580,000 (USD 590,710). © Christie's Images Ltd 2011

Of curved conical form retaining the original shape of the horn, carved and pierced in high relief with a tree-strewn landscape scene depicting Du Liniang seated within a pavilion perched on the side of a cliff below a plum tree emerging from the clouds, the reverse depicting Liu Mengmei seated on horseback accompanied by a servant approaching the pavilion below a poetic inscription describing the scene carved in low relief, the handle formed by the knotted branches of a pine tree continuing over the rim to the interior of the vessel, the material of an amber tone becoming darker at the core - 6 1/2 in. (16.8 cm.) high, wood stand, box

ProvenanceThe Songzhutang Collection, acquired from a European collection, 1998 

NoteThe poem is a four-line verse which may be translated as: 

Raining clouds resembling smoke;
fast descending onto the Jade Pavilion in the yonder mountain.
In the pavilion one is dreaming of grassy fields;
as if in a drunken stupor, at a time when apricot flowers blossom.
 

The scenes depicted around the sides of this libation cup refer to the late Ming dynasty play 'The Peony Pavilion' by Tang Xianzu in which the daughter of an important official, Du Liniang, dreams of an encounter with a young scholar, Liu Mengmei. When she wakes from her dream she is so consumed with her longing for the scholar that she dies and is buried in the family's garden beside a plum tree. It is only when Liu Mengmei coincidentally rests at the family's home on his way to the Imperial examinations and sees a portrait of Du Liniang, that he decides to open her coffin and finds her alive. This famous story remains by far the most popular vernacular play of the Ming dynasty. 

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 30 November 2011, Hong Kong