Previously sold at Sotheby's New York, 14 February, 1985, lot 944.
The seal on the current cup is that of Fang Hongzhai, recorded in Zhongguo Meishujia Renming Cidian, Shanghai, 1985, p.43, as a native of Hebei, which is unusual as most carvers were from south of Yangzi River, such as Bao Tiancheng from Suzhou, Li Wenfu, Pu Zhong, Zhou Wenshu from Nanjing, and You Zhisheng from Wuxi. Fang was active during the Ming Dynasty and later became a monk. He specialized in very fine rhinoceros horn and agate figural carvings. Only one other signed rhinoceros horn carving signed by Fang Hongzhai appears to have been published, the cup from the collection of the late Dr. Ip Yee collection, illustrated by J. Chapman, The Art of Rhinoceros Horn Carving in China, London, 1999, pl. no.288.
The exquisitely rendered details on the cup illustrate a scene as described in the 'Preface to the Scholarly Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion' written by the great calligrapher and poet, Wang Xizhi (AD 307-365). The author invited a group of scholars to a gathering by the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin, Zhejiang in the year 353. During the gathering they played a game in which servants would float cups of wine on the river to the scholars waiting downstream. In the time the cups took to reach the scholars, they had to try to compose a poem and catch the cups as they passed by.
The theme is rarely depicted on rhinoceros horn carvings due to its complexity, elaborate scenery and the large number of figures involved. The spectacular size of this horn enabled the carver to skillfully recreate the scene in magnificent detail.