Height: 22.500 cm
Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks
Asia OA +1127
Room 33: Asia
Rhinoceros horn cup
Qing dynasty, 18th century AD
Rhinoceros horn, a popular material for carving in China, is not 'horn' at all, but is formed of a solid mass of hair. Its natural colour is yellowish with streaks. The golden-brown colour of Chinese rhinoceros horn objects is achieved by staining and polishing.
historical records refer to much earlier use of the material, the
earliest surviving rhinoceros horn objects date to the Tang dynasty
(AD 618-906) and are preserved in the
Cups were the most important objects carved in the material. Originally, they were probably used as ritual vessels, because of their special powers. By the Tang dynasty, rhinoceros horn cups were given to scholars who were successful in their examinations.
This cup is ornately carved with flowers and leaves. Its base is in the shape of an ancient bronze wine vessel, called a gu.
J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)