Lot 3765. A superbly carved large pair of reticulated full-tip rhinoceros horn carvings, Qing dynasty, 19th century; 25 5/8 in. (65 cm.) high. Estimate HK$5,000,000 - HK$8,000,000. Price Realized HK$5,060,000. © Christie's Images Ltd. 2011
Each boldly carved utilising the natural curve of the horn, the first to depict an immortal standing beside two deer amidst an elaborate network of grapes, pine, magnolia, fruiting peaches and lingzhi fungus, all growing on branches, below deeply carved ruyi-shaped clouds around the mouth rim, the interior carved as lotus petals centred by a floral bud; the interior of the other cup is undecorated, the exterior similarly carved with three figures standing beneath three birds perched on fruiting branches of finger citrus, further detailed with flowering peony, crab apple, and fruiting peach branches, the horns of honey-brown tone, wood stands (2).
There are several auspicious imageries conveyed by the carvings. The strongest overall imagery is the wish for long life as portrayed by Shoulou, the Star God of Longevity. This is further enhanced by pine trees, peaches and lingzhi fungus. The first of these, as an ever-green, has a long association with longevity. The second bears reference to the legendary peaches that were grown in the Daoist Paradise in the garden of Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, and according to mythology, these peaches, once eaten, would bestow the power of immortality. The last is a sacred fungus that grows with a head resembling a wish-granting wand, ruyi, which provides the rebus "as you wish". A further point of note is the clouds carved encircling the mouth rims. These are deliberately carved into shapes that resemble heads of the lingzhi fungi.
Further auspicious imageries are provided such as the pair of deer standing beside Shoulao; the deer is a pun for 'emolument' or wealth. The white magnolia and peony flowers are popularly adopted in Chinese art. The latter for their association with wealth and the former, known as Yulanor literally 'White Jade', has connections to a poem by the famous Tang poet, Du Fu (712-770) in his 'Song of the Eight Drunken Immortals' in which Yulan was used to describe a talented young man. In addition, reading the floral combination rendered on this pair of horns with the peony, magnolia and crab apple flowers, they form the rebus Yutang Fugui, 'May your noble house be blessed with wealth and and honour'.