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

Historical period(s)
Ming or Qing dynasty, 17th century
Medium
Rhinoceros horn
Dimensions
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)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1970.1
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Vessel
Type

Cup

Keywords
China, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), pine tree, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Romance of the Western Chamber, tree, WWII-era provenance
Provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Label

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
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