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Seven rhinoceros horn libation cups and a carving of Budai and boys from a European family© Bonhams 2001-2018

A very rare rhinoceros horn documentary libation cup, Signed Zhou Tang Zhencang, dated by inscription to the 7th year of Wanli, corresponding to 1579 and of the period1

Lot 54. A very rare rhinoceros horn documentary libation cup, Signed Zhou Tang Zhencang, dated by inscription to the 7th year of Wanli, corresponding to 1579 and of the period; 11cm (4 3/8in) long. Estimate HK$ 500,000 - 800,000 (€ 55,000 - 87,000)Sold for HK$ 750,000 (€ 82,707) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Naturalistically carved in the form of a gnarled tree trunk with irregular knotty exterior with cavities, branches and nodules, the interior smoothly carved, the base carved in low relief with the four-character seal mark and incised reign mark, the horn of golden-honey tone. 

ProvenanceAn important European private collection, and thence by descent 

Published and IllustratedJ.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.232, pls.329-330.

Note: It is exceptionally rare for a rhinoceros horn libation cup to bear a date, and in particular an early one as on the present lot, which is dated to the 'Seventh Year of Wanli', corresponding to 1579. 

The distinction of this lot is further augmented by the relief carved collector's seal 'Zhou Tang zhencang', which has not been traced, demonstrating the importance in which the cup was held. 

The cup is superbly carved in a naturalistic gnarled tree-trunk form, demonstrating the highly accomplished craftsmanship of the carver, invoking the idealistic nature retreat which the literati would aspire to retire to. 

Compare a related rhinoceros horn libation cup, dated Renwu year of the Wanli period, corresponding to 1582, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 5 April 2017, lot 3643; and see also another rhinoceros horn tripod libation cup, Wanli mark, 16th/17th century, which was sold at Bonhams San Francisco, 13 December 2010, lot 5061.

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A rare, superbly carved and inscribed rhinoceros horn 'chilong' libation cup, Ming dynasty, dated renwu year of the Wanli period (in accordance with 1582), 19.4 cm, 7 5/8  in. Sold for sold 3,220,000 HKD at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 5 April 2017, lot 3643. Photo: Sotheby's.

Cf. my post: A rare, superbly carved and inscribed rhinoceros horn 'chilong' libation cup, Ming dynasty, dated 1582

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A rare rhinoceros horn tripod libation cup, Six-character Wanli Mark, 16th-17th Century; 3 3/8in (8.6cm) high. Sold for $266,000 at Bonhams San Francisco, 13 December 2010, lot 5061photo Bonhams.

Cf. my post: Five rhinoceros horn libation cup sold at Bonhams, San Francisco, 13 December 2010

A rare 'magnolia' rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century

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Lot 55. A rare 'magnolia' rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century; 12.2cm (4 7/8in) long. Estimate HK$ 300,000 - 400,000 (€ 33,000 - 44,000)Sold for HK$ 812,500 (€ 89,599) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Deftly carved in the form of a magnolia flower with three large lobed petals, the exterior with gnarled tree branches borne with flower buds and magnolia blossoms, all issuing from a tree branch forming the foot, the horn of sumptuous chocolate-brown tone turning darker at the core.

ProvenanceAn important European private collection, and thence by descent.

Note: The magnolia is a symbol of feminine beauty and charm. The magnolia's trumpet-like form made it a popular motif as the shape lent itself to the restrictions of the natural shape of the rhinoceros horn.

Compare with a related rhinoceros horn libation cup, of similar form and with design of magnolia, early Ming dynasty, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings, Hong Kong, 2002, p.123, no.112.

See also a similar rhinoceros horn libation cup in the form of a magnolia, 17th century, which was sold at Christie's London, 8 November 2011, lot 10.

A rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century

A rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century; 4 in. (10.2 cm.) high. Sold for 49,250 GBP at Christie's London, 8 November 2011, lot 10. © Christie's Images Ltd 2011.

Of small form, deeply hollowed with an extended lip, carved around the exterior with magnolia buds and leaves, all borne on a branch forming the openwork base, the horn of a dark caramel tone. Estimate GBP 20,000 - GBP 30,000.

A very fine rhinoceros horn archaistic 'six-chilong' libation cup, 17th century

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Lot 56. A very fine rhinoceros horn archaistic 'six-chilong' libation cup, 17th century; 13.8cm (5 3/8in) longEstimate HK$ 350,000 - 450,000 (€ 38,000 - 49,000)Sold for HK$ 812,500 (€ 89,599) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Finely carved around the exterior with a band of archaistic taotie masks interrupted by two clambering chilong with bifurcated tails, the handle formed by a further four chilong biting the rim, the horn of caramel-brown tone darkening towards the foot.  

ProvenanceAn important European private collection, and thence by descent.

Note: The archaistic design of the present cup, as demonstrated by the taotie mask motif and chilong, encapsulates the renewed interest in designs adopted from ancient bronzes. This reflects the 17th/18th century trend of 'evidential scholarship' (kaoju xue 考據學) not only with ancient texts, but also archaeology and inscriptions on archaic bronzes, as scholars sought a more empirical approach to understanding their ancient heritage invoking the idealised morals and virtues of early China. Responding to the fashion for archaism, craftsmen reproduced the motifs and patterns of ancient bronzes on their rhinoceros horns libation cups from illustrated pattern books. 

The present lot demonstrates how the master carver was keen to display his technical virtuosity by carving four high-relief chilong in openwork to form the handle. 

Compare with a related rhinoceros horn libation cup with similar motif of chilong and taotie masks, 17th century, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.88, no.41. Further related rhinoceros horn cups with similar archaistic motifs are illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.152, no.184.

See also a related rhinoceros horn cup, 17th/18th century, which was sold at Bonhams London, 6 November 2014, lot 421.

A fine rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th-18th century

A fine rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th-18th century; 13.8cm (5 3/8in) long. Sold for £ 68,500 (€ 78,249) at Bonhams London, 6 November 2014, lot 421© Bonhams

The richly-grained and glossy dark amber horn exceptionally finely formed with a high stepped foot beneath the body carved with a dramatic taotie-mask decorative band, the double handle formed from two chilong, the smaller sheltering beneath one arm of the larger reaching up to bite the rim of the cup opposite the spout formed with strongly sweeping curves. 

Provenance: an English private collection formed in the late 19th and early 20th century, and thence by descent within the family.

Note: The present lot is notable for its exceptionally confidently and elegantly carved sweeping lip, and the deeply hollowed interior. The archaism of the taotie motif reflects the interest in the 18th century for reviving and adapting designs from ancient bronzes, not only for their decorative qualities but also serving as a reminder to look to ancient morals for guidance in present life. Related libation cups combining chilong and archaistic bands are illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 199, no.41, formerly in the Mary & George Bloch Collection; and also see J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pls.174 and 185 for comparable examples in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin and ibid., no.184 in the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde in Munich. 

Compare another rhinoceros horn libation cup with a chilong handle but a geometric ground decorative band, sold in these Rooms, 16 May 2013, lot 361.

 

A rare 'scholar and pine' rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century

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Lot 57. A rare 'scholar and pine' rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century; 14.2cm (5 1/2in) long. Estimate HK$ 250,000 - 350,000 (€ 27,000 - 38,000)Sold for HK$ 1,062,500 (€ 117,168) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Expertly carved around the rim with angular rocky outcrops, a lone sage sits on the ground by a swirling stream flowing through the rocky crevices of the cup and into the base, all amongst wutong and pine trees, a gnarled twisted pine trunk rising to the top of the cliff to form the handle, exquisitely carved branches, vines and pine needles climb over the rim into the cup, a poetic inscription carved onto the cliff-face, the horn of dark chocolate-brown tone. 

ProvenanceAn important European private collection, and thence by descent

Note: The present rhinoceros horn libation cup with its scene of a scholar in contemplative ease gazing at the pine trees is imbued with poetic elegance and the refined taste of the 17th century literati. The inscribed five-character couplet adds to the bucolic element and emphasises the ancient tranquility of the pine: 

 松石偏宜古
藤蘿不計年

'Reclining behind a pine is suitably ancient, 
The vines take no regard of the years'

The pine was long seen as a symbol of the scholar: sturdy, rooted in tradition and braving the harshest winter. In the tumultuous 17th century during the Ming-Qing transition, the literati idealised the state of rustic seclusion from Court politics. 

Compare with two related rhinoceros horn libaton cups, 17th century, the first carved with a solitary figure of a sage fishing, and the second carved with scholarly figures by a stream, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pls.150 and 151.

See also a related, slightly larger, rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century, which was sold at Bonhams Hong Kong, 30 May 2017, lot 131.

A rare and large rhinoceros horn 'rocky landscape' libation cup

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A rare and large rhinoceros horn 'rocky landscape' libation cup, 17th century; 17.6cm (6 7/8in) long. Sold for HK$ 2,700,000 (€ 294,795) at Bonhams Hong Kong, 30 May 2017, lot 131. © Bonhams 

The deeply carved vessel of flared form, the well-delineated rim above angular rocky outcrops, partly obscured by ruyi-shaped cloud scrolls, with a lone sage seated on the graduated stepped ground by a swirling stream with its source at the base and flowing around the cup, amongst wutong and cypress trees, all below two large pine forming the handle with further gnarled branches and pine-needles emerging through the interior in high relief, the horn of dark chocolate-brown tone. 

Provenance: An important European private collection.

Note: The current composition of a lone scholar gazing into the distant landscape embodies the ideals of scholarly reclusion, popular with the 17th century literati. The multi-layered carving beautifully displayed from the swirling stream to the craggy outcrops exhibits masterful craftsmanship, deserved by the noteworthy size and considerable weight of this rhinoceros horn libation cup.

For related examples of rhinoceros horn libation cups, carved with mountainous landscape, 17th century, see T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pls.137, 143 and 167; and see another example, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pl.289.

See a rhinoceros horn libation cup, late Ming/early Qing dynasty, carved with the subject of 'Ode to the Red Cliff', sold in these rooms, 25 May 2011, lot 458; and compare another related cup, 17th/18th century, carved with rocky outcrops, pine and river, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2014, lot 3783.

 

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Lot 58. An exceptionally rare rhinoceros horn carving of Budai and boys, 17th century; 13.2cm (5 1/4in) wide. Estimate HK$ 600,000 - 800,000 (€ 66,000 - 87,000). © Bonhams 2001-2018

Cf. my post: Magnificent imperial white jade vessel leads the Hong Kong fine Chinese ceramics and works of art sale

A rare rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th-18th century

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Lot 59. A rare rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th-18th century; 14.7cm (5 3/4in) long. Estimate HK$ 300,000 - 500,000 (€ 33,000 - 55,000). Sold for HK$ 937,500 (€ 103,384) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Sumptuously carved around the exterior as a craggy mountain cliff superimposed by a luxuriant growth of naturalistically carved chrysanthemums and peonies, with meticulously detailed petals and leaves, the peonies on long stems rise from the base forming the handle and creep into the interior similarly carved as irregular rocks, the horn of dark-chocolate tone. 

ProvenanceAn important European private collection, and thence by descent.

Note: The present lot is exquisitely carved and detailed, with elegant and crisply carved chrysanthemum and peony petals, fully exhibiting the virtuosity of the master carver and reflecting the highly refined taste of the literati. 

Chrysanthemums feature prominently on this libation cup and have long been closely associated with Autumn and the hermetic poet Tao Qian (365-427 AD). After leaving office to avoid the troubles of the mundane world, Tao Qian returned to his rustic estate and planted numerous chrysanthemums. Since then, the chrysanthemum has come to symbolise the literati ideal of tranquil solitude in one's Autumn years. 

Together with chrysanthemums which represent Autumn, the peony represents the season of Summer as well as wealth and prosperity. The combination of different seasonal flowers can also be seen in the painting of late Ming and early Qing artists. 

Compare with a related rhinoceros horn libation cup, late Ming dynasty, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings, Hong Kong, 2002, no.129; see also a similar rhinoceros horn libation cup with floral motif, 18th century, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.138, no.89; and compare a similar rhinoceros horn libation cup carved as mountain rocks issuing chrysanthemums, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.163, no.201.

A fine 'magnolia and hibiscus' rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th-18th century

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Lot 60. A fine 'magnolia and hibiscus' rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th-18th century; 15.6cm (6 1/8in) long. Estimate HK$ 250,000 - 300,000 (€ 27,000 - 33,000)Sold for HK$ 650,000 (€ 71,679) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Exquisitely carved in the form of a magnolia flower with overlapping petals rising to an undulating rim, borne on gnarled tree branches forming the circular foot ring, issuing an abundance of hibiscus flowers with long ruyi-like stamens scattered around the exterior, the handle formed from a smaller hibiscus flower-bud and a long curling leaf, the horn of an dark-amber tone.

Provenance: An important European private collection, and thence by descent.

Note: The natural shape of the horn used for the making of this rare cup lends itself particularly well to that of an open flower blossom. The carver has transformed the lip end of this material into a complete magnolia flower with undulating rim. The hibiscus carved around the exterior are immediately recognisable by the stamens which extend far out of the flower. The carving is detailed and naturalistic, with the interior of the piece finished to the highest level with the overlapping petals carved to display a strong three-dimensional quality. 

Compare with a similar rhinoceros horn libation cup with magnolia buds, from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.167, pl.211.

A rare and large rhinoceros horn 'Vaishnava' bowl, Nepal, 17th-18th century

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Lot 61. A rare and large rhinoceros horn 'Vaishnava' bowl, Nepal, 17th-18th century; 17.3cm (6 3/4in) long. Estimate HK$ 300,000 - 500,000 (€ 33,000 - 55,000)Sold for HK$ 375,000 (€ 41,353) inc. premium. © Bonhams 2001-2018

Of yoni form raised on a short shallow foot and plain flat base, finely carved in relief to the rounded end of the interior with Vishnu and Lakshmi wearing crowns and framed by a mandorla, above the Buddha's footprints in the centre, the rim of the vessel carved with nagas, the exterior with a row of cartouches enclosing Hindu deities with Geruda at the pointed end, the horn of a chocolate tone.

Provenance: An important European private collection, and thence by descent.

NoteAccording to the sacred Vaishnava text, Vishnu Purana, a rhinoceros horn libation vessel can consume all sin. The yonirepresents the female generative organ, believed to be the seat of tejas, spiritual power and ardour. It is also worshiped as a symbol of fertility. Thus this rare bowl would have been highly venerated for its symbolic powers as a ritual vessel.

Compare with a similar rhinoceros horn bowl, of similar shape carved with images of Vishnu to the interior, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.273, pls.393-394. According to the author, all the recorded rhinoceros horn vessels from Nepal are dedicated to Vishnu: Nepalese kings are traditionally considered to be incarnations of Vishnu.

Bonhams. FINE CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART, 29 May 2018, 14:00 HKT, HONG KONG, ADMIRALTY