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Ming Dynasty Blanc De Chine Porcelain Ornamental Cup



Height: approx. 45cm | Width: approx. 25cm | Condition: Mint


This ornamental cup dates from the Ming Dynasty onwards, and is made of blanc de chine, a type of white porcelain made at the Dehua kilns in Fujian province. From this period, porcelain objects attained a combination of glaze and body traditionally referred to as “ivory white” and “milk white”. Dehua porcelain are marked especially by its feature of having a miniscule amount of iron oxide in it that allows it to be fired to a warm white or pale ivory colour. The form of the ornamental cup is inspired by the shape for the rhinoceros horn and is sometimes referred to as a rhinoceros-horn cup. The rhinoceros-horn cup is often referred to as a “libation” cup which is a misnomer as the word designates to pour out from. In ancient Chinese religion, wine is not poured from a cup, but into one. This misconception could have stemmed from deductions made from the cup’s shape, where it looks as though it was used for pouring purposes. These cups that follow the form of rhinoceros horn are usually ornamental and intended for display. Examining its form, the cup has an oval shape with a widely flared mouth. The edges are uneven to mimic the natural shape of a rhinoceros’ horn, but are otherwise uniform; with the mouth tapering to an oval foot. The cup can be is symbolically separated into two reals—the upper portions represents the sky or heaven, while the lower portion represents the earth or sea, the realm of mortals.

One can examine on this cup the depiction of a dragon emerging from a cloud. A benign creature, dragons symbolise royalty, rain, and spring; a creature befitting of the heavenly realm. This dragon is only depicted with four claws, as dragons with five claws were exclusively reserved for imperial use. Also, the upper portion is ornamented with a pine tree, which symbolises longevity and steadfastness. Portrayed together, these two symbols achieve a meaning of everlasting spring. Taking pride on the stem and on the lower portion of the cup, or the earth, is a qilin in low relief. Recognised for its benevolence, grandeur, felicity and longevity, it is an auspicious symbol that is often featured on Chinese ceramics. In addition, the cup also has an applied foot rim to give stability, and it is on this secure base the qilin stands. This ornamental cup thus belonged to a member of the elite class, and was exclusively made for decoration. Perhaps belonging to a slew of decorative treasures, this ornamental cup signifies longevity through all three symbols—the dragon, pine tree, and qilin.


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