In my collecting years over a quarter of a century, I have been walking on my own. Every time in the auction room, when I came across art pieces that I admired, I raised my paddle without a second thought. I had much joy and satisfaction from all the trophies acquired over the years, and I have always wanted to share these works of art. However, though selections from my rhinoceros horn collection were published by Jan Chapman and Thomas Fok, I have not had the opportunity to present them in its entirety; neither did I have the channel to convey the correct and legal way of collecting antique rhinoceros horn carvings, as well as promoting the importance of preserving and protecting these exceptional art works.  

Regretfully, the next generation of my family does not have the intention to inherit my collection. I have therefore decided to entrust Bonhams to offer my collection and to find a good destination for my pieces. If I could go back to the past, I would still choose collecting as a lifelong hobby, and I would still admire and acquire fine Chinese antiques including rhinoceros horn carvings that I am proud of. Let me share with you the feelings in my heart… 

I like collecting Chinese art and antiques for the following reasons: firstly as a Chinese, we must learn the essence of our own culture. When we are still physically and mentally able to protect our cultural relics, we should cherish them with preciousness. Secondly, it is about raising one’s aspiration by collecting – in the past when the prominent Chinese art collector T.Y. Chao suffered a major crisis in his career, the difficulties were overcome by selling his remarkable collections at the very last moment. Thirdly, which is also a personal reason: if I cannot catch up with the current development of science and technology, I can still indulge myself in the world of cultural relics by further exploring and enjoying on my own.

I like collecting rhinoceros horn carvings for the following reasons: firstly, rhinoceros horn is a very rare and precious material in both ancient and modern times. Since rhinoceros have long been extinct in China, the carvings were generally made from horns that were presented as tributes from foreign lands including Asia and Africa. Rhinoceros horn has its unique ‘sugar cane’ fibers as well as ‘fish roes’ fibers that has the appearance of the densely dappled grain, which therefore is easier to identify and authenticate, hence it is a safer choice especially for those who are just beginning to collect Chinese antiques. Secondly, since rhinoceros horn is made of a solid mass of agglutinated fibers composed mainly of keratin, the carvings cannot be buried in the earth but can only be handed down from one generation to another for appreciation. In ancient times, the material was even used as medicine due to its perceived potency. According to the author’s tentative statistics in Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, there are less than four thousand pieces of rhinoceros horn carvings existing and really fine ones are absolute rarities. Comparing to the works of art made of other materials, the rarity of rhinoceros horn carvings speaks for itself and more so when combined with their collecting and artistic value. Lastly, rhinoceros horn carvings provide in my view relatively better value for money, which is something which I can financially afford to collect. In addition, the owner of the Songzhutang Collection, Mr Thomas Fok, who is also a good friend of mine has given me guidance and shared his experience with me for over 20 years. He kindly parted with many of his precious rhinoceros horn carvings in order to assist me in completing my collection. I am very grateful to him for sharing the fun of the process of collecting. 

In addition, I would like to thank the late Dr. Lai Hong Leong, who introduced me to the world of Chinese antiques and cultural relics! I would also like to thank my husband and my family, who have provided me with countless support and trust! 

Angela Chua
October 2018

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SHARED CONNOISSEURSHIP: SHARED FRIENDSHIP
Thomas Fok

I have been fascinated by rhinoceros horn carvings for more than 40 years. In 1982, I first met Mrs Angela Chua and since then we have
built up a long friendship of 26 years because of our common interest in collecting rhinoceros horn carvings. We became good friends as we often shared and learnt from each other. Angela has vast knowledge, passion and taste in rhinoceros horn carvings and she would often travel abroad despite long-haul flights to seek related academic information on rhinoceros horn carvings as well as acquiring rhinoceros horn works of art. Every time when she acquires an art piece, she would share the happiness with me and allow me the opportunity to appreciate her latest acquisition. I still remember when she travelled to New York in 1994 to attend the auction of the well-known Arthur M. Sackler rhinoceros horn carvings collection and successfully won the bidding on a large magnificent ‘Hundred Boys’ libation cup and a massive ‘chilong’ cup. The ‘Hundred Boys’ cup has the highest standard of beauty, fine workmanship, rarity, size and condition that I have ever come across. 

Among the pieces from Angela’s rhinoceros horn collection are many exceptionally rare carvings that are decorated with a wide variety
of subject matters, including a massive ‘Romance of the Western Chamber’ libation cup, a ‘boy holding lotus’ cup, a ‘Four Concubines
and Sixteen Sons’ cup, a double-ram zun carved by the renowned carver Bao Tiancheng, an ‘Eight Horses’ cup, an ‘Ode to the Red Cliff’
cup, a ‘lotus leaf and crab’ cup, a double-gourd-shaped pouring vessel and a ‘Yueyang Pavilion’ cup, which are all exquisite pieces displaying very fine craftsmanship. 

As time goes along, Angela wondered on how to preserve her lifelong collection, as this has been her lifetime’s pursuit. Regretfully, her
children who were educated abroad, would not appear to share in her passion of collecting antique rhinoceros horn carvings. Therefore, she has decided to offer the collection with Bonhams and pass them on to the next generation of collectors, who would equally share the same interest and joy.

I wish Angela a very successful auction and collectors who share the same interest good luck in bidding on pieces that they admire.

Thomas Fok
October 2018

THE CHINESE ART OF RHINOCEROS HORN CARVING
Liu Yue

As the descendants of large terrestrial vertebrates from the Pleistocene period (approximately 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago), rhinos can be considered living fossils. Following the changes in climate and the activities of humans, their numbers gradually decreased, and their behaviour and habits were less observed. As a result, various myths and legends surrounded them, casting them in a unique and sometimes strange light. Rhinoceros horn was not only considered a precious medicinal material in Chinese culture, but it was also an extremely prized and rare material for crafting works of art. Works of art made with rhinoceros horns occupied a special place within traditional art. Before the Ming and Qing dynasties, rhinoceros horn was extremely rare and written records about it are scarce. Although relatively few compared to the number of other categories of art objects, most of these rhinoceros horn carvings were extremely refined and deserve our attention. 

Rhinoceros horn grows out of the nodule of the rhino’s cranium, differing from the horns on cattle, sheep, and deer. In terms of composition, the rhinoceros horn is the result of the keratinization of the dermis layer, exhibiting a filamentous texture of longitudinal direction, and displays a granular ‘millet pattern’ uniformly arranged as a hair follicle or a bubble in the base or cross section. It should be said that the uniqueness of the material itself was one of the crucial factors that made rhinoceros horn stand out from various other bone or horn carvings.

Today, rhinoceros are only found in tropical and southern Africa, as well as in Asian regions such as India, Java, and Sumatra. Before the Qin and Han dynasties, there were also rhinoceros in China, not only in the south, but also in the Central Plains. From looking at Shang bronze vessels such as Minister Yu’s zun vessel and the early Han dynasty gold and silver inlaid cloud pattern rhinoceros form zun, we can tell that people were familiar to them. However, after the Han dynasty, due to climate change and pressures from the growth of the population, the rhinoceros’ activity range gradually retreated to the southwest and eventually disappeared entirely, with less and less people aware of them. In the illustrations of Ming and Qing dynasty encyclopaedias such as the Sancai tuhui and Gujin tushu jicheng, woodblock engravings show the rhinoceros simply as a one-horned ox.

Following the extinction of rhinoceros in China, at least from the Han dynasty onwards, rhinoceros horn became an important commodity for international trade. Most of the traded rhinoceros horn came from Southeast Asia, and through intermediary Arab merchants, some Chinese merchant ships sailing off the East African coast brought back African rhinoceros horn. However, the shortage of raw materials did influence and restrict rhinoceros horn carving. We have only to look at the Qing Imperial household registry (Huoji dang) to see that there were shortages even in the Palace. For example, when a rhinoceros horn bowl decorated with the Seven Treasures around the exterior was being made in the 15th year of the Qianlong emperor’s reign (1750), the emperor decreed: ‘do not use a big rhinoceros horn, select and use a little one.’5 In the same year, the ‘silver cloisonné stand rhinoceros horn bowl’ that was planned to be produced prompted another decree from the emperor: ‘the rhinoceros horn is not [big] enough to use, use silverplate [to fill in some sections]’6. In the 46th year of the Qianlong emperor’s reign (1781), he was inspecting the few pieces of rhinoceros horn in the Treasury Reserve when he discovered that there were only six pieces, whereupon another decree was issued: ‘next year if the Siamese embassy should come and bring rhinoceros horn, report to me’.7 

With limited information on the beginning and origins of the rhinoceros horn carving industry, much is still unclear to us today. According to Luo Zhenyu (1866-1940), he once obtained a tube-shaped remnant from the Yin ruins at Anyang (Shang dynasty) which he described as having ‘refined carved characters, after checking the material, it was rhinoceros horn.’8 But this is still not confirmed. Some scholars have inferred that the sigong (兕觥), an ancient drinking vessel that appears frequently in the Book of Poetry was made of rhinoceros horn, as ancient bronzes unearthed from Shilou in Shanxi Province appear to have taken their form from rhinoceros horns.9 

Rhinoceros horn artefacts from before the Tang and Song dynasties have not been preserved, and even written records relating to it are few. After the Tang and Song dynasties, various written records on the subject gradually increased and we know that an extensive range of rhinoceros horn products were mainly used in clothing and objects for daily use. As clothing accessories, they were made into hairpins, beads, belt-hooks, combs etc.; while in daily life they were made into mats, ruyi sceptres, and brush-handles etc.

As the rhinoceros gradually became less familiar in people’s minds, it began to be almost deified. For example, the story of Wen Yu’s Burning the Rhinoceros1 reflects the view that rhinoceros horn could exorcise evil spirits, and its medicinal value in testing for poison began to be rumoure2. Moreover, there were named magical rhinoceros horns such as the ‘repulsing dust rhino’, ‘splitting water rhino’, and ‘radiant rhino’ etc3. In particular, the ‘heavenly rhino’ recorded in the Baopuzi, a collection of essays on alchemy and immortality, states that it ‘has red veins running from top to bottom’ and that if ‘one holds [the rhinoceros horn] it will split water for you’4. Although these mysterious ancient beliefs and views seem somewhat irrational today, they may have contributed to the use and development of rhinoceros horn carving.

It is especially important to note that in the treasury of Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan, there is a collection of rhinoceros horn objects dating to the Tang and Song dynasties, such as an Imperial spotted rhinoceros horn skin belt, a spotted rhinoceros horn knife, and rhinoceros horn cups, etc. The date of their entry into the collection is clear so it is a valuable reference for discussing the development of rhinoceros horn carving.

Combining at this stage both the physical objects with descriptions in literature, we can see that at that time, the natural beauty of the patterning and grain of rhinoceros horn itself was highly valued. Discussions on the origin, patterns and grading of rhinoceros horn increased, followed by a deeper understanding of the material. Many of the views and opinions formed from this time would have far-reaching influence.

Most of the rhinoceros horn carving that has been handed down today was created during the Ming and Qing dynasties, of which the 17th century from the late Ming dynasty to the early Qing dynasty was the most prosperous age for rhinoceros horn carving. The majority of the objects shifted from belt hooks and hairpins to libation cups and bowls. Ye Gongchuo (1881-1968) in his Xia’an tan yishu lu discussed the transformation: ‘In the Ming dynasty rhinoceros horn cups were esteemed; it was something that wealthy people had to have, similar to rhinoceros horn skin belt plaques in the Song dynasty. Until the Qing dynasty these [rhinoceros horn hairpins, belt hooks etc.] were not so appreciated, because many rhinoceros horn cups were made in the Ming dynasty.’ He adds: ‘In the early Qing dynasty, people treasured rhinoceros horn cups, but we do not know from when the taste changed.’10 The rise of rhinoceros horn libation cups was probably related to the evolution of the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes, and the increase of feasting and entertainment. Li Yu (1610-1680) in Xianqing ouji wrote that: ‘On wine vessels … often rhinoceros horn cups are displayed in wealthy households, because it is among their most treasured items; it is not flamboyant in shape, like a gentleman who does not overdress … jade wine cups improve the colour of the wine; rhinoceros horn cups can improve the fragrance of the wine, these two things are like two great ministers.’11 Rhinoceros horn libation cups appear not to have been ordinary wine vessels, and many were ‘persuading vessels’ used as precious vessels in the banquet with which to encourage the guests as well as the host to drink superior wine from. As such, they had to make sure they finished every drop each time.12

Even more remarkable though, was that at that time rhinoceros horn carving was experiencing a renaissance or breakthrough in its artistry of carving and sculpting. Many horns were dyed, and it was popular to carve in high relief or hollow them out completely. The ornate carving and patterns of the so called ‘heavenly rhino’ horn did not again become a salient feature. This transformation probably occurred in the early Ming dynasty or possibly even earlier and was perhaps related to the gradual rise of archaism and consciousness of antiquity among the elite. Rhinoceros horn carvings did not only absorb elements of the forms of archaic bronzes, but also aimed to absorb an archaic air, in complete difference to taste before. 

The rhinoceros horn cups mentioned in the literature from this period include the ‘sunflower cup’, the ‘lotus leaf’13 cup, ‘square’ cup, ‘round’14 cup, ‘heavenly deer’ cup, and ‘hibiscus’15 cup, etc. Some of these can be compared today.

The areas where the rhinoceros horns were carved at that time were mainly in Suzhou, Guangzhou and Zhangzhou. There are also a larger number of rhinoceros horn craftsmen recorded in the literature than before, including the famous Bao Tiancheng from Wu County (now Suzhou) who was one of the most skilled carvers of rhinoceros horn in the region;16 and Youmou, a native of Wuxi, was known as ‘Rhino cup You’ and was one of the best rhino horn craftsmen in the Wu area. During the Kangxi era he was recruited to work in the Imperial Workshops at the Forbidden City.17 The Qianlong empeor himself thought that there was a rhinoceros horn handed down to him by You Tong.18 The Ming dynasty dramatist Gao Lian in his Zunsheng bajian wrote that: ‘I know … Bao Tiancheng, Zhu Xiaosong, Wang Baihu, Zhu Yuya, Yuan Youzhu, Zhu Longchuan, and Fang Gulin, can all sculpt and carve rhinoceros and ivory, sandalwood, and zitan incense boxes and covers, fan pendants, buttons and the like, with all kinds of wonderful individuality and skill, widely different from former people.’19 From this we can see that Bao was not only good at carving rhinoceros horn, but also zitan furniture, and You Mou likewise could carve ivory and jade. In the Zhuren lu are recorded also the names Zhu He and Pu Zhonglian as well as others, who could all carve rhinoceros horn. These craftsmen could of course also carve bamboo, ivory and jade, and thus rhinoceros horn carving became more closely related to these other arts. 

1 (Southern Song Dynasty) Liu Changshu, Yi Yuan, juan 7.
2 (Eastern Jin Dynasty) Ge Hong, Baopuzi neipian: deng she.
3 (Tang Dynasty) Liu Xun, Qian biao lu yi, vol.2.
4 Ge Hong, Baopuzi neipian: deng she.
5 Qing gong neiwufu zaobanchu dangan zonghui, Qianlong fifteenth year, fifth month, twenty fourth day, Jishi lu.
6 Ibid., Qianlong fifteenth year, third month, eleventh day, Zan hua zuo.
7 Ibid., Qianlong forty sixth year, tenth month, twenty fifth day, Jishi lu.
8 Luo Zhenyu, Xuetang leigao, ‘Yinxu guqiwu tulu rushuo’, fig.2.
9 Sun Ji, Zhongguo gu wenwu zhong suo jian zhi xiniu.
10 Ye Gongchuo, Xia’an tan yishu lu, ‘Bao Tiancheng xijiao bei’.
11 (Qing) Li Yu, Xianqing ouji ‘qi wan bu: jiu ju’.
12 Nakagawa Tadateru, Shinzoku kibun.
13 (Ming) Wang Daokun, Taihan ji, juan 7, ‘Xi kui bei ming’, ‘He ye xi bei ming’.
14 (Ming) Fang Yizhi, Wuli xiaoshi, juan 8.
15 Xu Ke, Qingbei lei chao, vol.1.
16 (Ming) Zhang Dai, Tao’an mengyi, juan 1.
17 Li Fang, Zhongguo yishujia zheng lue, citing Zhuo quan lu.
18 See the poem ‘Yong You Tong ke xijiao cheng cha bei’ in Qing Gaozong yuzhi shiji, vol 4, juan 98, where it is noted ‘Wuxi Gazetteer, Mr You made a name carving rhinoceros horn libation cups, his name is You Tong.’
19 (Ming) Gao Lian, Zunsheng bajian, juan 14, ‘Yan xian Qingshang jian’.

A magnificent and exceptionally rare and large rhinoceros horn 'hundred boys' libation cup, 17th-18th century

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Lot 12 Y. A magnificent and exceptionally rare and large rhinoceros horn 'hundred boys' libation cup, 17th-18th century; 30cm (11 6/8in) longEstimate: HK$5,000,000.00 - HK$8,000,000.00 (€ 560,000 - 900,000)© Bonhams.

Exquisitely carved in high relief and openwork with numerous boys engaged in groups or singularly in leisurely and playful pursuits including flying kites, playing ball, walking a monkey, holding a bird and flying a butterfly, playing weiqi, running around, picking fish from a fishbowl, swimming, conversation, playing musical instruments, holding aloft flowers, plants, flags and pennants, playing 'rock-paper-scissors' and hide-and-seek, fooling around, climbing on trees and rocky ledges, crossing a bridge above a gushing stream, all amidst rocky ledges covered with gnarled pine, wutong and cypress trees below the clouds, with a bird in flight, the pine forming the handle growing over the rim onto the interior of the cup above the high-relief adult dragon looking back at its young chi-dragon writhing over a graduating rocky ledge on the spout end of the rim, the horn of dark chocolate and amber tone, with a superbly carved hongmu stand, box. 

ProvenanceArthur M. Sackler (1913-1987) Collection, New York
Christie's New York, 1 December 1994, lot 27
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedAsian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 1997-2005.

Published and IllustratedT.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.216, no.157.

Note: Arthur M. Sackler (1913–1987) was an American psychiatrist, art collector, and philanthropist whose fortune originated in medical advertising and trade publications. He began collecting art in the 1940s. His collection was composed of tens of thousands of works including Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern as well as Renaissance and pre-Columbian art. He founded galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology. In 1987, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C. was opened months after his death. Sackler had a particular interest though in archaic Chinese bronzes and his collection of Chinese art that was donated to the Smithsonian was considered one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese art in the world. Following his death, The Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology, was opened at Peking University in 1993.

The exquisite craftsmanship evident in the masterful carving and piercing, ingeniously creating a three-dimensional sense of depth, is superbly combined with an imaginative and playful design, fluidly executed along the natural form of the large rhinoceros horn. The impressive size would have required a careful and rare choice of the prized rhinoceros horn material. It is a tour de force of rhinoceros horn carving and can be numbered amongst the very finest examples ever recorded.

The theme of joyous and playful groups of boys engaged in traditional games, leisurely pursuits and merrymaking represents the propitious wish for numerous sons and continuity of the family, as well as Confucian ideals in education, and the advancement of sons. In its depiction of the cheerful boys, the cup draws upon related scenes of 'boys at play' painted as early as the Southern Song dynasty, when the imagery of boys at play set in a garden scene became a popular theme in paintings of the Court artist, Su Hanchen, who was active during the early 12th century. See 'Boys at Play in an Autumn Garden' by Su Hanchen, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Zhongguo Huihua Quanji, vol.3, Zhejiang, 2000, p.140, no.100. Such imagery was also painted on Imperial porcelain of the Ming dynasty from the Xuande to the Jiajing periods, as well as depicted on carved lacquer, jade and textiles; see for example a blue and white bowl, Xuande mark and period, illustrated by Liao Pao-Show, A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum: Hsüan-te Ware I, Taipei, 2000, pp.252-255, nos.96 and 97. 

The exceptional three-dimensional high-relief carving of the facing adult and young dragons to the interior of the cup, conveys the message of a father teaching his son the way of life. A similar motif is carved on large 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, pp.146-147, no.131.The Palace Museum, Beijing example is similarly carved in openwork but with scholars (rather than boys) engaged in leisurely pursuits, illustrating the later stage in life, only hinted at on the present cup by the boys similarly crossing bridges, playing weiqi, and conversing.

Compare two related rhinoceros horn 'Hundred Boys' libation cups, 17th century (17.7cm and 25.3cm high), from the Thomas Fok and Chung-kit Fok Collections, respectively, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pp.212-215, nos.155 (which was later sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 31 May 2010, lot 1815) and 156.

A very rare and exquisite archaistic rhinoceros horn 'double-ram' vessel, zun, signed Bao Tiancheng, 17th century

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Lot 14Y. A very rare and exquisite archaistic rhinoceros horn 'double-ram' vessel, zun, signed Bao Tiancheng, 17th century; 8.8cm (3 1/2in) high. Estimate: HK$2,000,000.00 - HK$3,000,000.00. © Bonhams.

Exquisitely carved after the Shang dynasty archaic bronze prototype, in the form of twin rams conjoined at the centre, rising from their shared four feet with rounded hooves, each with a full convex body decorated in relief with archaistic C-scrolls flanked by stylised wings, the heads set in opposite directions, with well detailed facial features flanked by twisted horns, between a square section forming the neck of the well hollowed vessel, with a curved lipped rim and further decorated in relief with confronted S-scrolls flanking a ruyi-head, the horn of dark-honey and chocolate tones, zitan stand, two boxes.

ProvenanceYamanaka & Co., 1940
Gary Mack Collection, 1982
Songzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002–2005.

Published and IllustratedWorld Journal, New York, 30 March 2003, p.23
Hong Kong Museum of Art brochure, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2003
Metal, Wood, Water, Fired and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 2004, no.68.

NoteBao Tiancheng is recorded in Li Wufang's list of carvers as having been born or worked in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province during the late Ming dynasty. One rhinoceros horn cup signed by him is dated to the Wanli period, indicating his period of activity. In a late Ming text Taoan mengyi ('Memoir of the Clay Studio'), the author Zhang Dai wrote:

'Among the unparalleled craftsmanship of Wuzhong...the rhinoceros horn carving of Bao Tiancheng...can be safely regarded as unmatched in the hundred years past and to come.'

The present vessel, signed Bao Tiancheng, is numbered amongst a small group bearing the mark of the master carver. Jan Chapman notes six rhinoceros horn cups and vessels signed 'Bao Tiancheng' or 'Tiancheng', of various forms and illustrates three examples, but which does not include the present lot; see J.Chapman, The art of rhinoceros horn carving in China, London, 1999, pp.83, 122-124, figs.56, and 120-122; see also a rhinoceros horn ewer and cover, signed Bao Tiancheng, late Ming dynasty, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn, Hong Kong, 2002, pp.128-129, no.117. See also a further rhinoceros horn example signed Bao Tiancheng, carved in the form of a 'Zhang Qian' raft, signed Bao Tiancheng, which was sold at Christie's Paris, 15 June 2004, lot 60. In addition to this group noted by Chapman there are three rhinoceros horn ear-cups, signed Bao Tiancheng: the first, is the cup Lot 5 in this catalogue; the second, also from the Angela Chua Collection, is illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.106, no.58; and the third, from the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, was sold at Christie's London, 7 November 2006, lot 53. 

The form of this remarkable zun vessel is based on late Shang dynasty bronze zun of double-ram shape; for two examples see R.W.Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Cambridge, Mass., 1987, pp.121-122, figs.173 and 175. 

Whilst there are many examples of archaistic rhinoceros horn cups in the form of jueguding and fangding, as well as champion-cups, it would appear that no other archaistic rhinoceros cup of this 'double-ram' zun form is recorded. For such archaistic examples see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn, Hong Kong, 2002, nos.132-135, 204-207. 

Similarly shaped vessels inspired by antiquity were also produced in other materials; see an archaistic gold and silver-inlaid bronze 'double-ram' vessel, zun, Ming - early Qing dynasty, which was sold at Christie's New York, 18-19 September 2014, lot 1039. See also a related yellow jade 'sanyang' zun vessel, Qing dynasty, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade 10 Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2010, p.83, no.54.

A magnificent and very large rhinoceros horn 'Romance of the Western Chamber' libation cup, 17th century

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Lot 9Y. A magnificent and very large rhinoceros horn 'Romance of the Western Chamber' libation cup, 17th century; 20cm (7 7/8in) high x 20.5cm (8 1/8in) across. Estimate: HK$2,000,000.00 - HK$3,000,000.00 (€ 230,000 - 340,000). © Bonhams.

Of massive proportions and naturalistic tapering form, carved and pierced in high relief with figural scenes inspired by the Xixiang ji ('Romance of the West Chamber'), the figures in various activities amidst pavilions, shrines and walls, walking on rocky ledges, riding pack-animals and carrying a palanquin, all amidst large gnarled pine forming the handle, pawlonia, cypress, willow and plantain growing from jagged outcrops below clouds and above a stream, the interior carved below the tri-lobed spout in high relief with five scholars and attendants on a bridge opposite the pine-handle growing over the rim, carved hardwood stand, box.

Provenance: Chung-Kit Fok Collection, Canada
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2006, lot 1137
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002–2005 

Published and IllustratedT.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.191, no.138.

Note: The present cup is remarkable for its very large proportions and superb multi-layered three-dimensional high-relief carving. The large size and depth of the rhinoceros horn allowed the master carver to create a detailed design drawing its inspiration from Xixiang ji (西廂記 'Romance of the Western Chamber'). The meticulous design includes an impressive thirty-four figures within a complex setting filled with various trees, rocky ledges and outcrops, shrines, pavilions and walls. 

The Romance of the Western Chamber, formally written into the story we recognise today by playwright Wang Shifu 王實甫 (1250-1300), was immensely popular among all levels of society. Woodblock illustrations in the many editions helped conventionalise images that were instantly recognisable to the general public, thus creating a corpus of motifs that was widely used by painters, silk embroiderers, lacquer workers and other craftsmen including rhinoceros horn carvers. The scenes depicted around the exterior include:

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Scene 3 (Book 1). The Young scholar Zhang Sheng while on his way to the capital to sit for the Imperial civil service examinations, stays at a monastery where he sees and falls in love with Cui Yingying, the daughter of the deceased chief minister at the Tang Court.

L’image contient peut-être : nourriture

Scene 4 (Book 1). Shortly after Zhang asks permission from the abbot to stay at the monastery. He is shown seated respectfully before the abbot and another monk with shaved heads. 

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Scene 6 (Book 1). The memorial service for Mr Cui, which has brought Cui Yingying and her mother to the temple, is held in the temple. The service is led by the abbot before a minutely carved figure of Buddha.

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Scene 8 (Book 2). News of Cui Yingying's beauty has spread and the local bandit, Sun the Flying Tiger and his troops, have surrounded the monastery in the hope of taking her. Yingying's mother agrees that whoever can drive away the bandits can have Yingying's hand in marriage. Zhang promises he will disperse the bandits and gives the fighting monk Huiming (with stick) a letter asking his childhood friend, General Du Que, for help against the bandits. 

Aucun texte alternatif disponible.

Scene 13 (Book 4). The general subdues the bandits, and it seems that Zhang Sheng and Cui Yingying are set to be married. However, Yingying's mother begins to regret her rash promise to Zhang, and takes back her word, with the excuse that Yingying is already betrothed to the son of another high official of the court. Zhang is greatly disappointed and begins to pine away playing the zither or guqin, while Yingying and Hongniang tiptoe to the window to listen.

L’image contient peut-être : nourriture

Scene 16 (Book 4). Zhang and Yingying begin exchanging love letters. Zhang having read Yingying's letter, rushes to meet her in the garden and even climbs over the wall, supporting himself with the willow branches. Yingying, however, turns away, angry at his uncouth behaviour, while Hongniang rebukes him.  

Aucun texte alternatif disponible.

Scene 20 (Book 6). Zhang finally departs for the capital to sit for his exams, bidding farewell to Yingying. His servants carry in carts his luggage, books and scrolls, symbolising literally the weight of his erudition. 

Aucun texte alternatif disponible.

Scene 21 (Book 6). While sleeping at an inn, Zhang dreams that Yingying has left the monastery and joined him. The dream is depicted within a balloon, a tradition commonly seen in woodblock prints. 

L’image contient peut-être : nourriture

Scene 25 (Book 8). The final scene depicted in the interior, shows Governor Du Que rejecting Yingying's cousin Zheng Heng's claim to marrying Yingying at court. With no obstruction, Zhang and Yingying can finally be happily married.  

Figural scenes on rhinoceros horn carvings, porcelain, jade or lacquer were treasured for their reference to a particular novel or play well known by the literati. Compare a related rhinoceros horn cup, entitled 'West Wing Picture', from the Field Museum of Natural History, which appears to depict a number of similar scenes to the present cup, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.209, fig.287; see also a further related rhinoceros horn 'Orchid Pavilion' cup, 17th century, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pp.192-193, no.139, which was later sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1709. 

See a related rhinoceros horn 'Peony Pavilion' libation cup, 17th century, which was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 30 November 2011, lot 3039. Compare also a related but smaller rhinoceros horn 'Romance of the West Chamber' libation cup, signed Zhi Sheng, 18th century, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3247. 

An exceptionally rare double-gourd-shaped pouring vessel, Fugong mark, 17th-18th century

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Lot 7Y. An exceptionally rare double-gourd-shaped pouring vessel, Fugong mark, 17th-18th century; 16.8cm (6 1/2in) long. Estimate: HK$2,000,000.00 - HK$3,000,000.00 (€ 230,000 - 340,000). © Bonhams.

The conical horn exceptionally and elegantly contoured into a double-gourd-shaped vessel, the interior confidently and deeply hollowed into two oval apertures joined by a circular hole, the vessel tapering at the prow into a spout, delicately and precisely carved around the larger aperture in low relief with a fourteen-character inscription, the underside of the double gourd inscribed with a seal mark reading Fugong, the horn ranging from an attractive rich honey tone to walnut brown, stand and two boxes.

ProvenanceSongzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005.

Published and IllustratedT.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.107, no.59
J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.81, no.53
Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition brochure, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2003.

Note: The inscription reads:
Tian xi yu yi hua lao xiang, zhi du qing xin wei qi zhen

which may be translated as:
'The heavenly rhinoceros horn vessel holds jade fluid (wine) of great fragrance.
This precious object helps neutralize the poison and purify the heart.
'

The underside of the double gourd inscribed Fugong, denoting the name of the carver Sheng Fugong, who is believed to have been active during the 17th century. It is extremely rare to find rhinoceros horn carvings with a Sheng Fugong mark. This carver is discussed by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p. 136, where two examples bearing the carver's mark are recorded: see a rhinoceros horn archaistic four-legged ding, from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, figs.150-151; and a rhinoceros horn 'river landscape' cup from the Songzhutang Collection, fig.152, which was later sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3153. See another 'river landscape' libation cup signed Sheng Fugong, 17th century, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 5 October 2016, lot 3668.

The present lot is notable for its exquisitely contoured double-gourd shape and smoothly hollowed interior. No other similar examples appear to have been published. The horn being constructed and used horizontally is believed to have been used as a wine container, whereas this type of vessels are more often seen being modelled in the form of a raft, see ibid., pp.78-81, nos.47-52.

The rarity of the present lot is further emphasised by its simplistic and plain design, whereas it is more usual for rhinoceros horn vessels to have been carved with designs. Rhinoceros horn vessels with a plain design signed Sheng Fugong can also be compared to Lot 3 in this collection, a double-gourd-shaped vessel and a tray. For examples of undecorated rhinoceros horn vessels, see ibid., pp.146-147, nos.170-171, where the latter one was later sold at Bonhams Hong Kong, 28 November 2017, lot 53.

An exquisite rhinoceros horn 'lotus leaf and crab' libation cup, Signed Shen Yiru, 17th-18th century

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Lot 18Y. An exquisite rhinoceros horn 'lotus leaf and crab' libation cup, Signed Shen Yiru, 17th-18th century; 13.8cm (5 1/2in) long. Estimate: HK$1,200,000.00 - HK$1,800,000.00 (€ 140,000 - 200,000)© Bonhams.

Superbly carved in the form of an open lotus leaf with undulating curled edges and finely detailed veins, issuing from a stem supported on a base in the form of a small lotus bloom borne on another stem, the stems extending around one side forming the openwork handle, tied with a millet leaf beneath a small naturalistic lotus leaf, the exterior crisply carved with tiny conch shells amidst water weeds and on the other side incised with a ten-character inscription ending with a four-character maker's mark, the interior exquisitely carved in high relief with a crab clutching a stalk of millet, the horn of a rich caramel tone darkening at the core, box.

ProvenanceA Long Island Collection, US
Christie's New York, 26 March 2003, lot 5
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Note: The inscription on one side of the cup reads: 
Zi zi lian jia di, yu yi ding xuan huang, Shen Yiru zhi

Which may be translated as:
'To come first in consecutive public examinations, Heaven and Earth shall be at (one's) command, made by Shen Ruyi'

The crab's shell is a symbol of armour, jia 甲, which may be interpreted as 'first' - referring to the prestigious first place in the Imperial Civil Service jinshi Examinations held by the Qing Court; hence the present cup represents an auspicious wish for success at the examination ensuring a successful career as an official and a bright and secure future. The stalk of millet, sui 穗, together with crab and lotus, is a rubus for harmony. 

See another rhinoceros horn cup incised with the same inscription from the Songzhutang Collection, carved in the form of a lotus leaf with a crab grasping a millet spray around the exterior, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, no.88, which was later sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 31 May 2010, lot 1823. 

The carving on the present lot is exceptional in its masterful craftsmanship and ingenious design. It would have required scrupulous attention to detail from the master carver, realistically depicting the powerful crab with strong angular legs, and the deftly carved snails as well as the naturalistic furling veined lotus leaves.

It is extremely rare to see such a large crab carved on the interior of the rhinoceros horn cup as in the present lot; for related examples of a rhinoceros horn lotus leaf cup carved with a smaller crab at the interior, see one in the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.188, no.256; a second one in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; and a third in the Staatliches Museum fur Volkerkunde, Munich, illustrated by J.Chapman, ibid., nos.217 and 219. A further example in the collection of Hong Kong Museum of Art, also carved as a lotus leaf with a crab and snails, is illustrated by T.Fok, ibid., no.90.

A superb rhinoceros horn lingzhi-shaped 'bamboo' libation cup, 17th-18th century

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Lot 16Y. A superb rhinoceros horn lingzhi-shaped 'bamboo' libation cup, 17th-18th century; 15.5cm (6in) long. Estimate: HK$1,200,000.00 - HK$1,800,000.00 (€ 140,000 - 200,000)© Bonhams.

Masterfully carved in openwork and various levels of relief with vivid lingzhi fungus heads and angular bamboo leaves around the exterior, issuing from intertwining stems forming the base and extending upwards on one side to form the reticulated handle joined by a muscular sinuous chilong depicted with a bifurcated tail, the beast clambering over the rim onto the interior of the vessel, facing opposite to another smaller chilong, the interior superbly carved with angled contours to convey the form of lingzhi fungus, the horn patinated to an attractive reddish caramel tone, box. 

ProvenanceSongzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005.

NoteThe present lot is remarkable for the exceptional craftsmanship demonstrated in the superb composition as well as the powerful openwork and high-relief carving of each detail including the vivid portrayal of the bamboo stalks and leaves, the muscular chi-dragons and the undulating lingzhi heads. It is also notable for its interior decoration which is delicately modelled as part of the fungus. 

The lingzhi fungus is an important symbol of longevity and Immortality. Together with the depiction of bamboo, which forms a pun for zhu 祝 meaning 'blessing', it conveys the auspicious wishes for long life, making it particularly appropriate as a birthday gift. 

For related examples of rhinoceros horn cups similarly carved with the lingzhi motif and fungus-shaped interior, see one in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and another illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, nos.203 and 204.  

Compare with a rhinoceros horn 'chilong and lingzhi' cup, similarly carved with a chilong clambering over the rim into the fungus-shaped interior, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 3 October 2017, lot 3695. 

An exceptionally rare rhinoceros horn 'Ode to the Red Cliffs' libation cup, Zhuang Houzhi seal mark, 17th century

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Lot 8Y. An exceptionally rare rhinoceros horn 'Ode to the Red Cliffs' libation cup, Zhuang Houzhi seal mark, 17th century; 13.3cm (5 1/4in) long. Estimate: HK$1,200,000.00 - HK$1,800,000.00 (€ 140,000 - 200,000)© Bonhams.

The horn of an outstanding golden honey tone, exquisitely carved in various levels of relief and in openwork to depict a scene from the 'Ode to the Red Cliff' portraying the poets Su Dongpo, Huang Tingjian, and the monk Foyin seated in a boat rowed by a boatman, accompanied by another small boat passing beside a bridge on a river flowing tortuously through jagged cliffs and rocky outcrops, and cascading into the underside of the foot, beneath gnarled pine and wutongtrees and swirling clouds, the handle superbly carved in openwork and high relief with gnarled and knotted pine branches extending into the interior of the cup, the jagged rockwork opposite the handle incised with an eight-character inscription, the reverse carved in shallow relief with a twenty-eight character poem Chibitu, 'Scene of the Red Cliff', ending with a square seal reading Zhuang Houzhi yin, the interior intricately carved in high relief with a writhing dragon, elaborate wood stand and box. 

ProvenanceChristie's London, 4 December 1997, lot 399
Songzhutang Collection, US
Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008, lot 1710
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005.

Published and Illustrated: T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.184, no.132.

NoteThe inscription on the rock face opposite to the handle reads:
Yu feng lai hu, sui shui lai long

which may be translated as:
'Tiger comes with the wind and dragon comes with the water.'

The twenty-eight character poem titled Chibutu (Scene of Red Cliff) maybe be translated as:
'The overnight rain in the valley has turned a thousand rocks green;
A hundred waterfalls and ten thousand trees roar in chorus.
The scene should be celebrated by a poem;
The days in the mountain are unforgettable.
'

The cup successfully demonstrates the craftsman's consummate ability in using differing layers of relief to render the varying depth in the landscape as well as a great precision in the carving of the inscription, conveying a sense of dynamism and liveliness in the scene.

The exquisite and meticulous carving illustrate a scene inspired by the famous literary work 'Ode to the Red Cliff' composed by the renowned poet Su Shi (1037-1101), which refers to the visits to the scenic site of the Red Cliffs by Su Shu with his companions Huang Tingjian and the monk Foyin. The image of the poet travelling in a boat with his companions was very popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and was frequently used as decoration on various media including porcelain, jade and rhinoceros horn. Compare with other rhinoceros horn libation cups decorated with this subject matter, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pp.210-212, pls.289-291; and T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, nos.130 and 132-133, and 137.

A very rare rhinoceros horn 'chrysanthemum' vase, Juban ping, Kangxi six-character mark, Qing Dynasty

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Lot 4Y. A very rare rhinoceros horn 'chrysanthemum' vase, Juban ping, Kangxi six-character mark, Qing Dynasty; 17.2cm (6 3/4in) high. Estimate: HK$1,200,000.00 - HK$1,800,000.00 (€ 140,000 - 200,000)© Bonhams.

The ovoid body exquisitely carved in low relief with a band of slender chrysanthemum petals above the slightly spreading foot, elegantly rising to a tall trumpet neck with a flaring rim, the material of an attractive dark amber tone, the base carved in low relief with the six-character mark.

ProvenanceSongzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Note: This type of symmetrically carved vases would have required material of considerable size hence extant examples of rhinoceros horn vases are scarce. The outstanding craftsmanship of this lot is demonstrated in the elegant proportion and fluid outline of the vessel as well as the meticulously carved chrysanthemum petals in relief, conveying a sense of subtle sophistication.

The vase is inspired in form by the Imperial porcelain peachbloom-glazed vases, Kangxi mark and period. Vessels of this form are known as juban ping, 'chrysanthemum petal vase', and belong to a group of eight literati objects for the scholar's desk, produced in peachbloom and clair-de-lune glazes; see a peachbloom-glazed chrysanthemum vase, Kangxi mark and period, from the Qing Court Collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum. Monochrome Porcelain, Shanghai, 1999, p.21, no.18. 

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Image courtesy of the Shanghai Museum. 

Chrysanthemum represents autumn and belongs to 'the Four Gentlemen of Flowers' in China together with the lotus, orchid and bamboo. It is associated with longevity and wealth from its similar sound to the word jiu 久, which means 'long enduring'. The use of chrysanthemums as decorations reached a peak of popularity during the reigns of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors.

Compare a related rhinoceros horn baluster-shaped vase, laifu, Kangxi mark, Qing dynasty, similarly inspired by Imperial peachbloom-glazed porcelain vases of the Kangxi period, carved around the neck with three raised bow-string, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.177, no.126, which was later sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3150.

A very rare archaistic signed and inscribed rhinoceros horn ear-cup, signed Bao Tiancheng, 17th-18th century

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Lot 5Y. A very rare archaistic signed and inscribed rhinoceros horn ear-cup, signed Bao Tiancheng, 17th-18th century; 13.1cm (5 1/8in) long. Estimate: HK$800,000.00 - HK$1,200,000.00 (€ 90,000 - 140,000). © Bonhams.

Skilfully carved after the archaic Han dynasty bronze form, of oval form with deep flared sides, flanked on the elongated sides by a pair of 'ear'-handles, rising from rectangular foot rounded at the corners, enclosing the incised 41-character inscription followed by the relief-carved three-character mark in kaishu script, the translucent horn of rich-honey and dark-chocolate tone, box. 

ProvenanceChristie's New York, 18 September 2003, lot 75
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Note: The inscription may be translated, 'Collecting rhinoceros horns from Tianzhu (India), these are hollowed out, ground, incised and made into wine/ear cups. The piece is in the Han style, and as if naturally formed. Spreading fragrance, it chases away evil and cures poison. What a wonderful treasure'. Signed Bao Tiancheng

Bao Tiancheng is recorded in Li Wufang's list of carvers as having been born or worked in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province during the late Ming dynasty. One rhinoceros horn cup signed by him is dated to the Wanli period, indicating his period of activity. In a late Ming text Taoan mengyi ('Memoir of the Clay Studio'), the author Zhang Dai wrote: 

'Among the unparalleled craftsmanship of Wuzhong...the rhinoceros horn carving of Bao Tiancheng...can be safely regarded as unmatched in the hundred years past and to come.' 

Jan Chapman notes six rhinoceros horn cups and vessels signed 'Bao Tiancheng' or 'Tiancheng', of various forms and illustrates three examples; see J.Chapman, The art of rhinoceros horn carving in China, London, 1999, pp.83, 122-124, figs.56, and 120-122; see also a rhinoceros horn ewer and cover, signed Bao Tiancheng, late Ming dynasty, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn, Hong Kong, 2002, pp.128-129, no.117. See also a further rhinoceros horn example signed Bao Tiancheng, carved in the form of a 'Zhang Qian' raft, which was sold at Christie's Paris, 15 June 2004, lot 60.  

In addition to the select group of rhinoceros horn carvings signed Bao Tiancheng, only three rhinoceros horn ear-cups, signed Bao Tiancheng, would appear to be recorded: the first, is the present cup; the second, also from the Angela Chua Collection, is illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.106, no.58; and the third, from the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, was sold at Christie's London, 7 November 2006, lot 53. Whilst the two ear-cups from the Angela Chua Collection bear an identical inscription, the present cup is incised in zhuanshu script and the other cup is incised in lishu script. However, the Fowler Museum cup, differs from the first two in several aspects: a shorter version of the full 41-character incised inscription, only noting 14 characters, which are carved in relief in kaishuscript and with the signature followed by the character zhi

Rhinoceros horn ear-cup shaped vessels are very rare and in addition to the three noted above only two others would appear to be published: see T.Fok, ibid., pp.99 and 102, nos.51 and 54. The first, from the Harvard University Art Museums, dated 16th century, with an inscription which translates as 'modelled after Han style jades in mid-Spring in the cyclical year renshen, with seals Jiyu Gushi; the second, dated 17th century, signed You Kan and with a further inscription. 

The form of the present cup and inscription are a clear reference to antiquity and specifically to the Han dynasty. Although lacquered ear-cups, or yu shang, first appeared in the Warring States period, such as the example excavated from a Chu tomb in Jiangling County in Hubei, illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji - 8 – qiqi, Beijing, 1989, p.20, no.20, the archaic-style rhinoceros horn ear-cups are much closer in shape to examples made during the Han dynasty, such as the one excavated from the Han tomb in Jiangling, illustrated in ibid., p.45, no.44. This reference to antiquity represented a wish to emulate the perceived virtues of antiquity, underscored in the inscription with the wish to follow the law of Heaven. 

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Han dynasty. Image courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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Qianlong period. Image courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The text carved on the three rhinoceros horn ear-cups referring to their ability to neutralise poison, corresponds to the popular belief in the horn's powerful magic. Ge Hong in the 4th century wrote in his famous Daoist treaty Baopuzi ('The Master of Embracing Simplicity'): 

'The rhinoceros lives deep in the mountains. At dawn and dusk, it glows brightly like a torch. Take its horn and make it into a fork. And use this fork to stir in a bowl of poisonous broth. White foam will arise, and the broth will be poisonous no more.' 

A very rare rhinoceros horn 'lotus-leaf' libation cup, 17th-18th century

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Lot 17Y. A very rare rhinoceros horn 'lotus-leaf' libation cup, 17th-18th century; 16cm (6 1/4in) long. Estimate: HK$600,000.00 - HK$800,000.00 (€ 68,000 - 90,000). © Bonhams.

Naturalistically modelled as a large inverted lotus leaf superbly carved with finely detailed veins and undulating furled edges, the exterior decorated in various levels of relief with two small conch shells and a mantis resting on a further curled lotus leave, the openwork handle formed from intertwining stems issuing a lotus flower and pods bursting with seeds, all borne on a further lotus blossom at the base, the horn of a dark amber tone, box.

ProvenanceS. Marchant & Son Ltd., London
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong, acquired from the above on 12 November 2002.

NoteThe present cup is remarkable for its superb quality of relief and openwork carving of the open lotus leaf with furled rim and flowers as well as the characteristic veining. This particular type of lotus cup standing on a base of another lotus bloom depicted with distinctive layers of petals, together with the handle shaped as two stems of lotus flowers and buds, is considered as one of finest types of lotus cups; for further discussion see J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.166.

Lotus as one of the Eight Buddhist Emblems, bajixiang, symbolises purity due to the beautiful flower emerging from muddy water. It is associated with the pure character of for virtuous gentlemen and the lotus (he 荷) is also a homophone for the word 'harmony' (he 和).

For related examples of a rhinoceros horn 'lotus' cups, also carved standing on a lotus blossom, see one in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, illustrated ibid., nos.207-209; and another from the Thomas Fok Collection, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, no.85.

See also a 'lotus' rhinoceros horn cup from the Songzhutang Collection, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 3 October 2017, lot 3704.

 

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

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Lot 13Y. A rare archaistic rhinoceros horn libation cup,  17th-18th century; 15cm (6in) high. Estimate HK$ 500,000 - 800,000 (€ 56,000 - 90,000). © Bonhams.

The elegantly proportioned vessel rising from a recessed oval foot to a widely flaring rim, delicately carved around the exterior with a band of archaistic taotie masks reserved on a leiwen ground divided by notched flanges, one end of the horn elaborately carved in openwork with a sinuous chilong with bi-furcated tails clambering above the key-fret rim, the horn ranging from a dark amber tone to walnut brown, box.

Provenance: Sotheby's London, 16 June 1999, lot 752
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong

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 exhibits an outstanding contrast of the sinuous and muscular body of the chilong dragon at the handle to the underlying design of the archaistic taotie band, providing an attractive overall design that elevates the elegant shape of the cup, demonstrating the technical virtuosity of the master carver.

Compare with a related rhinoceros horn libation cup with similar composition and motif of chilong and taotie masks, 17th century, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.60, no.13. 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; and in the Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition catalogue Ming and Qing Chinese Arts from the C. P. Lin Collection, Hong Kong, 2014, no.167.

A rare and fine rhinoceros horn 'lotus and egrets' libation cup, 17th century

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Lot 15Y. A rare and fine rhinoceros horn 'lotus and egrets' libation cup, 17th century; 14.6cm (5 5/8in) long. Estimate HK$ 400,000 - 600,000 (€ 45,000 - 68,000). © Bonhams.

The vessel in the form of an open lotus leaf, naturalistically carved around the exterior in high relief and openwork with gnarled knotty stems issuing undulating lotus blooms and leaf, vividly decorated with three egrets perching on the bending stems and millet leaves, the entangled stems forming the base, extending upwards to form the handle on one side of the cup, binding together with millet grass, the horn of an attractive amber honey tone, box.

ProvenanceSotheby's London, 2 December 1997, lot 77
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005.

Published and IllustratedT.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.164, no.113

NoteThe craftsmanship of the present lot is remarkable in its naturalistic depiction of the studded stems and lotus flowers and leaves, as well as the lifelike egrets. The symbolism represented by the egrets or herons, which when depicted amidst lotus, represents the Confucian ideal of a virtuous official, as well as the meaning 'may your path be always upwards' - the characters for 'egret' (lu 鷺) and 'reed' (lu 蘆) are homophones for the character for 'road' (lu 路), and the character for 'lotus' (lian 蓮), is a homophone for the character for 'continuous' (lian 連). Together they form the phrase 'lu lu lian ke 路路連科', auguring well for a string of successes in exams and most probably alluding to the renowned Imperial jinshiexamination, the gateway for appointment in the Imperial civil service and a secure and successful future.

Compare with a related example of a rhinoceros horn cup carved with egrets in the Museum voor Volkenkunde, Rotterdam, illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, no.83; see also a rhinoceros horn 'lotus and egrets' cup, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2014, lot 3784. The depiction of such studded stems can be compared to a rhinoceros horn 'lotus and aquatic plants' cup in the collection of Hong Kong Museum of Art, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.139, no.90.

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

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Lot 11Y. A rare rhinoceros horn 'riverscape' libation cup, 17th century; 14.5cm (5 3/4in) long. Estimate HK$ 400,000 - 600,000 (€ 45,000 - 68,000). © Bonhams.

The flaring sides raised on a hollowed oval base, elaborately carved around the exterior in delicate relief with a continuous riverscape depicting a scholar seated on a rocky outcrop amidst pine and wutong trees emerging from rock formations beside a stream flowing tortuously through jagged rocks cascading to the base, the openwork handle formed by gnarled branches of wutong and pine trees continuing over the rim into the interior, the material of a rich amber honey tone, box. 

ProvenanceDora Wong Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Note: This rhinoceros horn cup is remarkable for the meticulous carving incorporating the harmonious river landscape onto the rhinoceros horn, successfully rendering the finely textured details of the wutong and pine trees in openwork as seen on the tree-shaped handle as well as on the flaring sides of the cup. 

For a related example of a rhinoceros horn libation cup with similar composition of jagged rocks and pine and wutongtrees next to a swirling stream, compare with a 'river landscape' libation cup, by Sheng Fugong, 17th century, from the Songzhutang Collection, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, no.160, and J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.137, no.152, which was later sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3153.

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

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

Lot 10Y. A rare rhinoceros horn 'landscape' libation cup, 17th century; 16cm (6 1/4in) long. Estimate HK$ 300,000 - 500,000 (€ 34,000 - 56,000). © Bonhams.

 Of conical form, the flaring sides tapering to a hollowed oval base, finely carved in varying levels of relief around the exterior with two pairs of scholars in a rocky riverscape, one pair walking up the hill, the other standing next to a pavilion, all amongst jagged cliffs and rocky outcrops with pine and wutong trees, one end of the horn set with an openwork handle formed by gnarled pine tree trunks extending into the interior of the cup, the horn patinated to a rich dark walnut tone, box.

ProvenanceSotheby's London, 13 November 2002, lot 12
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Note: For related examples of rhinoceros horn 'landscape' libation cups, compare with a 'river landscape' libation cup, signed Sheng Fugong, 17th century, from the Songzhutang Collection, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, no.160, and J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.137, no.152, which was later sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3153. See also another example carved with a similar composition, which was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 3 October 2017, lot 3694.

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

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Lot 1Y. A rare rhinoceros horn 'naturalistic' libation cup, 17th-18th century; 11.3cm (4 1/2in) long. Estimate HK$ 250,000 - 350,000 (€ 28,000 - 39,000). © Bonhams.

The vessel naturalistically contoured in the form of the rhinoceros horn with a flaring rim tapering to a tip end, the exterior and interior left plain and undecorated revealing in the natural beauty of the horn, the horn of an attractive golden honey tone darkening to a blackish-brown at the tip, box. 

Provenance: Christie's New York, 31 August 1999, lot 375
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Note: This charming cup celebrates the natural form and beauty of the short Sumatran rhinoceros horn, undecorated yet finely contoured and polished, conveying a sense of elegance and simplicity. It is very rare to find undecorated rhinoceros horn cups; for example Jan Chapman, notes only three such 'undecorated' examples out of a total of 219 in the collection of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; see one illustrated by J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.146, no.170. 

A rare rhinoceros horn lion-handled betel-nut cutter, 19th century

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Lot 21Y. A rare rhinoceros horn lion-handled betel-nut cutter, 19th century; 9cm (3 1/2in) long. Estimate HK$ 250,000 - 350,000 (€ 28,000 - 39,000). © Bonhams.

The handle carved as a lion with a curved back crouching on the mounted metal cutting blade, the beast depicted with bulbous eyes, flaring nostrils and an open mouth revealing its teeth, the spine well defined in low relief and the manes finely incised, with the claws grasping a series of elaborate knots terminating at the bottom, the blade with a sharp and curved edge, the horn of an attractive light brown tone, box

ProvenanceA European private collection
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005

Note: It is extremely rare to find a betel-nut cutter made of rhinoceros horn, which is probably among the rarest categories of rhinoceros horn carvings, see J.Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p.112. Compare three related examples of rhinoceros horn betel-nut cutters mounted with a movable blade: the first, carved in the form of a horse in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass., illustrated in ibid., no.107; the second, carved as a horse, from the collection of Franklin Chow (and later sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3254) and the third carved in the form of a lion, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, nos.182 and 183

A very rare rhinoceros horn openwork 'prunus' hairpin 17th-18th century

Lot 20Y. A very rare rhinoceros horn openwork 'prunus' hairpin 17th-18th century; 20.5cm (8in) long. Estimate HK$ 200,000 - 300,000 (€ 23,000 - 34,000). © Bonhams.

The slender shaft gently tapering to a pointed tip, the upper half intricately carved in openwork and high relief with blooming plum branches and buds, the horn ranging from a warm golden honey tone darkening to a walnut tone at the tip, box

ProvenanceSongzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005

NoteHairpins carved from rhinoceros horn are very rare and would have required a horn of considerable size and length. Compare a shorter hairpin also carved with plum branches in the collection of Shanghai Museum, 17th century, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.246, no.184.

See also a similar rhinoceros horn hairpin from the Songzhutang Collection, which was sold at Christie's Paris, 14 December 2010, lot 1829.

A rare rhinoceros horn 'nail'-shaped hairpin, 17th-18th century

Lot 19Y. A rare rhinoceros horn 'nail'-shaped hairpin, 17th-18th century; 15.9cm (6 1/4in) longEstimate HK$ 80,000 - 100,000 (€ 9,000 - 11,000). © Bonhams.

Of slender cylindrical form surmounted by a cap finial, the material of a dark walnut tone, box

Provenance: Songzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

Exhibited: Hong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005

NoteFor related examples of rhinoceros horn hairpins, see a shorter one in the collection of the Shanghai Museum, carved with plum branches, 17th century, illustrated by T.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.246, no.184. Another rhinoceros horn hairpin also carved with plum branches, 17th/18th century, was sold at Christie's Paris, 14 December 2010, lot 1829.

 

A rhinoceros horn snuff bottle, 18th-19th century

A rhinoceros horn snuff dish, 18th-19th century

Lot 6Y. A rhinoceros horn snuff bottle and a snuff dish, 18th-19th century. Estimate HK$ 60,000 - 80,000 (€ 6,800 - 9,000). © Bonhams.

The snuff bottle of rectangular form rising from a short oval foot to a square neck, the material of golden honey tone, 4.7cm (2in) high, box; the small plain snuff dish raised on a short flat foot, the horn ranging from a honey-brown tone to blackish-brown, 4.1cm (1 1/2in) diam., box

Provenance: Songzhutang Collection, US
Angela Chua Collection, Hong Kong.

ExhibitedHong Kong Museum of Art, Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems of Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong, 2002-2005 (the snuff bottle)

Published and IllustratedT.Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, p.247, no.185 (the snuff bottle)