Topics: China, Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty Pages: 6 (2053 words) Published: December 3, 2013
A study of rhinoceros and rhinoceros horn artifacts in the ancient China Rhinoceros(xi犀), also named as si (兕), is a rare animal in the ancient China. They were very active in the landscape of China during the prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found the evidence of rhinoceros bones in many Neolithic relics. 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 BC), 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 heat 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 technology 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. O1: Gold and silver inlay cloud-patterned rhinoceros vessel (zun尊) 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 on its back can be opened and its belly is empty to store the wine that is allowed to 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...

Bibliography: Christie’s Hong Kong to Offer an Important Private Collection of Rhinoceros
Horn Carvings from the Songzhutang Collection, Part II
National Museum of China
National Palace Museum “The Art of Rhinocero Horn Carving”
The Palace Museum
Welch, Patricia Bjaaland. “ Chinese art: A guide to motifs and visual imagery”
Yang, Dehong, “Appreciation of Carving Rhinoceros Horn”
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