Rhinoceros-horn cup with scenes from “Romance of the Western Chamber”

Historical period(s)
Ming or Qing dynasty, 17th century
Rhinoceros horn
H x W x D (overall): 20.4 x 18.6 x 9.5 cm (8 1/16 x 7 5/16 x 3 3/4 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


China, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), pine tree, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Romance of the Western Chamber, tree
Provenance research underway.

Elaborately carved rhinoceros-horn cups were fashionable as decorations in seventeenth-century China and were occasionally used as drinking vessels; early legends secured favor for rhino horn, which was said to change color in contact with poison. This cup portrays multiple scenes from a dramatic love comedy, Romance of the Western Chamber. The episode near the top of the cup on the viewer's right depicts the Buddhist temple where the lovers first meet. The top left is carved with a scene showing the hero climbing over a courtyard wall to profess his love to the young woman. The tip of the horn bears a battle scene in which the hero saves his lover and her mother from rebel attack. In spite of his bravery, the mother forbids her daughter's marriage unless the hero attains high government rank. "Before the wine of parting is drunk, my heart is already shattered" is inscribed on the upper left, referring to the separation the lovers encounter when the hero leaves to achieve honors in the capital.

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.