Lot 3781. A rare ‘Pine and Rabbit’ rhinoceros horn libation cup, 17th century; width 15.5 cm., 6 1/8 in. Estimate 2,500,000 — 3,000,000 HKD. Lot Sold 3,160,000 HKD (322,271 EUR). Photo: Sotheby’s.
carved in high relief and openwork with two gnarled pine trees with branches wrapped around the sides, depicted with a hare crouched beneath a full moon and wispy clouds overhead, the interior mouth carved with branches overhanging the lip, the horn of rich chestnut patina.
Provenance: John Sparks, London, 1978.
Collections of Edward T. Chow and Franklin Chow.
Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 8th April 2011, lot 2702.
Exhibited: Craving for Carvings: Rhinoceros Horn from the Chow Collection, Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore, 2003, cat. no. fc30.
Literature: Thomas Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 170.
Note: Carved with a charming scene of a hare sitting alert with one ear aloft and gazing intently at the half-hidden moon, this cup is imbued with a sense of mystery and vitality through the gently swirling clouds. The balance between the finely carved details and plain polished surfaces accentuates the contrasting textures of the softness of the rabbit and bristly pine trees while cleverly creating a sense of the stillness of the night. Its previous owner, the collector and connoisseur Edward T. Chow, refers to it in his notes as diaogong canglao, wanzheng wu shang, diaogong huayi xi shao (‘The carving has age, it is in perfect condition with no damage, the design is poetic and sparse’).
Rhinoceros horn cups decorated with a hare are rare, and no other closely related cup appears to have been published. Compare a slightly smaller libation cup, carved on the exterior with various animals including a hare, in the collection of Hartman Rare Art, sold in our New York rooms, 5th June 1985, lot 130; and another sold at Christie’s London, 2nd April 1979, lot 24.
The hare is commonly associated with moon festivals, and is believed to inhabit the moon. Together with Chang’e, the goddess of the moon, they stir the elixir of immortality under a cassia tree; a reference strengthened by the fungus of immortality, carved behind the animal. It was also believed that hare were impregnated by gazing at the moon, thus suggesting that vessels decorated with this motif were made as marital gifts with the wish for many descendants.