A magnificent and finely carved archaistic rhinoceros horn ‘chilong’ libation cup, Qianlong period (1736-1795), Estimate: HK$ 3,000,000 – 4,000,000 / US$ 380,000 – 500,000. © Christie's Images Ltd. 2008.
HONG KONG - Christie’s announced that it will offer Important Chinese Rhinoceros-Horn Carvings from the Songzhutang Collection on May 27 in Hong Kong. This collection, passionately collected over several decades, offers 30 rare and important examples of rhinoceros horn carvings and is one of the finest known private collections of this treasured and honored art form. Long prized for medicinal and mystical powers, rhinoceros horn material was extremely precious and expensive to obtain, making carvings such as those presented in this collection difficult to acquire and rare to commission. Examples surviving to the present day are considered extremely scarce and highly sought-after. This sale offers a singular opportunity for collectors to acquire a work of art that for centuries has been considered among the most valued in China. It also allows a wider audience the opportunity to witness the beauty of this art form and to learn of its place in the history of China. Part of the proceeds from this special collection, expected to realize US$5,000,000 – 7,000,000, will benefit the Songzhutang Foundation and its work to aid poverty-stricken school children in the northwestern regions and remote mountainous areas of Mainland China.
Important Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Carvings from the Songzhutang Collection
Rhinoceros horn carvings are among the rarest and most precious of ancient Chinese works of art, and this collection offers 30 exceedingly fine, museum-quality examples, each unique in its design and execution. The examples offered in this collection span a range of forms, motifs and techniques, and include signed works from this art form’s pre-eminent master carvers. Among the rich repertoire of subject matter are landscapes and figures, plants and insects, fish and birds, as well as scenes from daily life, plays on auspicious subjects, and themes taken from literary works of the time.
Among the highlights offered is a generously sized and exquisitely carved cup illustrating a scene described in the Preface to Scholarly Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion written by the great calligrapher Wang Xizhi (estimate: HK$ 3,000,000 - 4,000,000 / US$ 380,000 – 500,000). An elegant and refined work, this cup features images of tall mountains, lush vegetation, an exquisite pavilion and scholars engaged in various scholarly activities, which together create a strong three dimensional story. The figure of Wang Xizhi (AD 307-365) is seen writing in the Orchid Pavilion, while several scholars engage in activities around the cup - some admiring the bamboo grove, others reciting poems under beneath pine trees. The figures are carved with great attention to detail: facial features are clearly discernible and expressions are vivid and animated. On the face of a cliff, in carved running script, is the phrase "Lush woods, slender bamboo and winding stream,” inspired by the Preface. Also seen is the square seal with the surname of the carver, Fang Hongzhai, who was active from the late Ming to the early Qing dynasty and is known for extremely refined and detailed works, and whose work is found in the Palace Museum in Beijing. Very few rhinoceros horn carvings adopt such a theme as it involved numerous figures, elaborate scenery, and an extremely complex composition, therefore requiring superior carving skills.
Above all, such a composition required an extraordinarily large rhinoceros horn of fine quality, making this example not only rare, but true masterpiece with great artistic value.
Of particular note in this collection is a Ming dynasty, 17th century vessel fashioned in the form of a large inverted lotus leaf (HK$ 4,000,000 - 5,000,000 / US$ 500,000 –700,000). The material used in this work is smooth and lustrous, with a fresh and elegant design that shows great animation. It is skillfully rendered and highly naturalistic flora and fauna including a butterfly in flight. The interior features a lively image of a Praying Mantis climbing over a long bladed leaf. The upbending stem of the large lotus leaf has been hollowed out to form a spout, with the narrow channel connected to a hole in the base of the vessel so that liquid can be poured through it. The vessel bears the maker’s sealmark Zhi Sheng, the style name of You Kan, considered perhaps the greatest carver of the period. This cup, formerly in the E.T. Chow Collection, is exceptional in its superb quality, naturalistic detail and subject-matter.
Also of note is a rare rhinoceros horn figure of a Budai (estimate: HK$ 3,000,000-4,000,000 / US$ 380,000 – 500,000). The monk Budai, also known as the Laughing Buddha, is depicted seated amidst the spreading loose folds of his robes, his chest and large belly exposed, clutching in his right hand a tasseled rosary while five laughing boys clamber up his body.
The sale also includes a large libation cup with a dragon motif from the Qianlong period (estimate: HK$ 3,000,000-4,000,000 / US$ 380,000-500,000). This enormous cup of archaic bronze form has a beautifully contoured interior, and depicts thirty-nine lively chi - dragons of various sizes and shapes climbing around the sides and over into the interior of the vessel.