Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Carving of Taoist Immortal (Ascetic) | Qing Dynasty | 1900

This is a Rhinoceros horn carving of Louhan in variegated dark honey color, naturalistically carved in the shape of this Chinese Immortal. Notice the ribbing on his chest indicating that he was an ascetic. Approximate age: 1890-1900. Condition: Original condition with beautiful patina. Confirmed by Alchemist to be Rhinoceros horn and based on the motif, made prior to when the members were persecuted in China for their beliefs by the Communist party. Dimensions: 5-1/2”h x 2-1/8”w x 1-1/2”d.

Historical Information —

Today, the rhinoceros no longer roams the landscape of China Proper along the lower region of the Yellow River. The ever-increasing scarcity of the rhinoceros in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) made its horn eternally precious. The Tang dress code required that the emperor and the crown prince alone could use hairpins made of ‘rhino’ horn to fix in place their imperial crowns, and the officials would wear rhinoceros waistbands according to their ranks. The horn remained an exotic rarity after the Tang Dynasty, and all the while people gradually became totally ignorant of the physical animal itself, except the faint knowledge that it had horns either on the head or at the snout.

Carved Rhinoceros horn carvings are not only skillfully carved as decorative art, but also have the “scholar’s taste”, as the themes of these carvings are not confined to historical figures, landscapes, birds, and flowers. The craftsmen also got their inspiration from ancient literature. The art historian Jan Chapman, author of “The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China,” said associations between rhinoceros horn and long life can be found in various poems in the early Chinese classic compilation “The Book of Songs,” which is believed to date to 500 B.C. Rhinoceros horn was once considered an auspicious material described in ancient literature. It was also carved into objects such as drinking vessels, elaborately ornamented with carvings of auspicious symbols and greatly favored by emperors and the wealthy. Rhinoceros horn was originally referred to as Black Ivory.

The value of rhinoceros horn carvings today is not solely dictated by the size or color. The most important factor is the rarity, quality and depth of carving, the subject matter and size. Rhinoceros horn is notoriously difficult to carve because of its density and hardness. Researchers at Ohio University have shown that they are not only composed of compressed or modified hair, but in fact, are similar in structure to horses’ hooves, turtle beaks, and cockatoo bills. The upper portion is commonly used for figural carving, and the lower, widest portion, with a larger core, as fashioned into pieces such as libation cups. Collectors strongly prefer unstained horn in its dark honey-colored natural state as the piece shown.

NOTE: Thanks to preservation efforts, animals and endangered materials (e.g. ivory and rare woods) are conservatively used today, if not banned altogether. However, we recognize that these materials have been important since ancient times for making a wide range of functional and decorative items. We only feature antique and rare species because, while we support conservation, we truly feel that the experience and appreciation of historic artifacts should also be preserved.

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