A rhinoceros horn 'Lotus' libation cup, Qing dynasty, 18th century

Lot 1. A rhinoceros horn 'Lotus' libation cup, Qing dynasty, 18th century; 16.7cm., 6 5/8 in. Estimate 7,000 — 10,000 GBP. Lot sold 19,200 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.

the cup in the form of a deep widely flaring lotus leaf, the dark reddish-brown horn naturalistically carved around the exterior with lotus buds and flowers borne on leafy tendrils curling up and around the body, forming to one side a large handle and ribbon-tied to the base to form a short foot on which stand two large cranes, the interior carved with a small frog looking up to the rim.

NoteThe fashion for very dark almost black rhinoceros horn carvings emerged in the 18th century and the present cup is a fine example of this trend. According to Jan Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p. 62, especially larger-sized rhinoceros horn cups were stained, generally using pine soot and squid ink as black dyes to achieve a rich matt black colour.  

The decoration of cranes was a popular one amongst horn carvers, see a cup in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, carved with a pair of cranes against rocks, illustrated ibid., pl. 253; and another vessel from the collection of Dr. Ip Yee, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 19th November 1984, lot 94.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art, London, 16 May 2007