Worldwide media recently took note of a record-breaking find at the July 23rd Tulsa, Oklahoma taping of the popular PBS program, Antiques Roadshow. Five 17th-18th-century Chinese libation cups made from carved rhinoceros horn shattered all records to become the highest-appraised objects in the history of the program. Seeing this as a great opportunity to engage the public’s interest and further the conversation, a decision was made to exhibit these pieces, to complement works from Philbrook’s own collection of Asian carvings.
“This exhibition is a focused look at exquisite examples of fine craftsmanship by Chinese artists from the 17th to 19th century. Philbrook is thrilled to share these works with the community,” says Christina E. Burke, Philbrook’s Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art.
Throughout history rhinoceros horn and other materials like ivory and jade have been considered auspicious materials prized for their scarcity and for the inherent qualities they were believed to have, including medicinal properties. For instance, the Chinese have long believed that rhino horn was imbued with the power to cure various ailments and even promote longevity. These materials were carved by exceptionally skilled artisans into treasured objects used only by the Chinese elite, including the imperial court and the literati or scholarly class. Such meticulously crafted pieces reflect the social status of their owners and today are appreciated for their aesthetics and historical value.