A study of rhinoceros
Various ancient literatures such as “E Ya”, “Guo Yu”, “Lun Yu”, and “Shan Hai Jing” mention the existence of rhinoceroses and its impressive image with double horns on the snout and forehead.
They used to live in China until the 14th century but then it disappeared because ancient people killed rhinoceros for many reasons. During Warring States period (475 – 221 SC), rhinoceros’ skin was demanded for shields and armors for soldiers because of its thickness. “The Story of GouJian Descend upon Wu” recorded that, “Now, there are about 130 thousands GouJian’s soldiers armed with suits of rhinoceros skins. ” By Tang dynasty (618-907), rhinoceros skin was used as belts by officials to demonstrate their political status and the emperor and prince used hairpins which were made of rhinoceros horns to fix their crowns.
It was a common belief by ancient people that rhinoceros horns had can cool blood, reduce eat as an antidote to poison. Therefore, they were fond of making rhinoceros horn vessels to exude their medicinal properties into the liquid contained. Because of the scarcity of rhinoceroses, objects made of rhinoceros horns have been treated as rare treasures with the rapid growth of horn carvings and decorative arts in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911).
In fact, rhinoceros were extinct on the land of ancient China at that time, but more rhinoceros horn were imported into China as the maritime expeditions of Admiral Zheng during the Yongle period (1403-1424) of the early Ming Dynasty. Imperial workshops and later private workshops were encouraged to produce rhinoceros horn objects of high artistic value.
The majority of extant rhinoceros horn works are dated from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In other words, the objects made of rhinoceros horns had their heyday during the Ming and Qing.
The rhinoceros horn carving is a fascinating work so that many scholars participated in the production from the late Ming Dynasty. They mixed the techniques of different material carvings such as bamboo, wood, ivory, Jade and mental carving skills, and styled the artifacts with consummate echnology of high and low relief carvings and dyeing process, which promoted the development of innovative carving motifs and designs. It is an attractive study to explore the advancement and innovations in themes and designs of rhinoceros horns artifacts as people’s taste changes with the times and the progress in handicraft of the artists.
The installation will show us the examples that reveal the great intelligence and exquisite craftsmanship of the laboring people.
We can also see the influence of the social environment on the growth of rhinoceros horn carvings during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. 1 : Gold and silver inlay cloud-patterned rhinoceros vessel (Zune) The wine vessel is in the shape of a strong and elegant rhinoceros. Its entire bronze body is covered by cloud patterns and inlaid with gold and silver.
The stout body, robust limbs, sharp tusks and bright black eyes indicates a powerful image of Sumatran rhinoceros which used to exist in the landscape of China. The lid flow out through the mouth. During the spring and autumn period and the Han Dynasty, a variety of animal images were applied as the shapes of the wine vessels, such as elephants and owls in the Shang Dynasty, horses, rabbits and ducks in the Zhou Dynasty, and tigers and dragons in the Western Han.
This rhinoceros vessel is very rare and considered as a masterpiece in Bronze Age.
Although the vessel is made of bronze and cannot be an example of rhinoceros objects strictly, it is significant to illustrate the Asian Sumatran rhinoceros was active in the history of China as it is the earliest extant image of rhinoceros that has been found. Among the remaining less than four thousand artifacts of rhinoceros horn carvings, the majority of artistic work are typically horn vessels, especially the libation cups ecause their forms coincide with the nature shape of the horns in order to make the best use of the materials.
Rhinoceros horn carvings gradually became popular in the late Ming Dynasty. Because of the participation of scholars at that time and the fusion of caving techniques, the diversification of themes and decorative motifs was come into being.
Except for traditional motifs of landscapes, birds and flowers, scholarly themes such as auspicious subjects, legends or tales, and the story of anecdotes from literature or history were favored by designers. 02: Rhinoceros Horn Cup with Dragons in Clouds The cup is a reprehensive artifact in the late Ming Dynasty.
Its motif is about nine dragons riding on clouds. One is heading upward at the bottom of the cup; three are circling around the mouth and the handle; five stay on the body of the cup like entering Wonderland. This tale, a well known legend in ancient China, tells a famous old saying and the dragon has nine sons and they are different from each other. It implies that each one has his own characteristics.
The delicate carvings create a magnificent scene of the story and depict different vivid expression of each dragon with beautiful and rich color of the entire cup. : “Hundred Boys” rhinoceros horn libation cup This cup is another example of rhinoceros horn cup dated to the Late Ming and early Qing Dynasty which expresses a very different theme from Nine-Dragon Cup. Its exterior carves boys frolicking in various playful pursuits. In the past history, Chinese artists preferred the theme of boys at play. For example, a famous Southern Song court artist, Su Hanchen, painted a picture named “Boys at play in an Autumn Garden” which described the children from official’s families playing with red leaves.
Actually, this pictorial image implies auspicious meaning in ancient China.noceros Horn”