Smith & Singer

A large carved full-tip rhinoceros horn libation cup, 19th century

Estimate $60,000 – $80,000


Alternate Views


the full length of the horn intricately carved in the form of a deep lotus leaf, borne on a long curved stem within an openwork arrangement of further sinuous stems bearing lotus flowers and leaves and reeds with clusters of fruits, all issuing from a further cupped lotus leaf at the tip, the horn of light caramel tone shading to brown at the tip
60.5 cm long

  • Lot Sold $120,000 (Hammer Price)
  • $146,400 (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)


Sotheby's Belgravia, 14 July 1977, lot 57
The Zorich Collection, Adelaide, thence by descent

Show Catalogue Notes

Catalogue Notes

The present cup is impressive for its deeply undercut form and large size. The carver has made use of the entire length of the horn.The lotus plant is one of the most popular decorative themes in rhinoceros horn carvings. Homonymous with the word for peace the lotus (he) is symbolic of the pure and elevated character of virtuous gentlemen which appealed to the gentry and literati.
For examples of related full-tip rhinoceros horn cups see one on loan in the Durham University Oriental Museum, illustrated by Jan Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, p. 73, pl. 38, where the author notes that the majority of these extravagant full-tip cups were produced during the 19th century and almost certainly in Canton and suggests the cup may have been commissioned by a European who demanded the largest and longest possible horn with the maximum amount of bravura carving. An early example that may have served as inspiration for later pieces, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros horn Carving, Shanghai, 2001, pl. 131 attributed to the late Ming period
Compare with a similarly decorated cup sold Sotheby's London,11 May 2011, lot 20; another carved with lotus and magnolia, sold Christie's South Kensington, 14 May 2010, lot 693; and a pair of cups carved with lotus, iris and reeds, sold Sotheby's New York, 19 March 2013, lot 361

Condition Report

Some minor frits and fine hairline cracks around the mouth rim. Two small holes on the lotus flower petal and to the side of the petal just below the rim, these do not go through to the interior. A very small hole towards the tip on one side. Generally good condition.

Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's Australia is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Saleroom Notices regarding this sale. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS.




Alison Alford


Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)2 9302 2402
E: Alison Alford

Brett Ballard


Australian & International Art
T: +61 (0)2 9302 2402
E: Brett Ballard

Fiona Hayward

Senior Specialist

Australian & International Art
T: +61 (0)3 9508 9900
E: Fiona Hayward

Anthony Hurl


Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)8 7225 7836
E: Anthony Hurl

Ann Roberts

Consultant, Asian Art

Arts & Design
T: +61 (0)3 9508 9900
E: Ann Roberts

Geoffrey Smith


Australian & International Art
Melbourne  |  Sydney
T: +61 (0)3 9508 9900 or
+61 (0)2 9302 2402
E: Geoffrey Smith

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