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The cup uses the natural form of the rhinoceros horn. Its exterior is carved with nine dragons: the one that is raising its head crouches at the foot of the cup; three rest on the mouth and handle; another five fly in the clouds on the body. With dragons and clouds, the design is magnificent and impressive.
Rhinoceros horn is a precious Chinese herb in traditional medicine classified as having a cold nature. It is said to cool blood, reduce heat, and detoxify. Because of its natural shape, rhinoceros horn was mostly made into cups. This cup has beautiful color, exquisite carvings and smooth surface. Its vivid design reproduces the Nine-dragon Cup of legend. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) treasured the rhinoceros horn cup as a precious artifact. He was incredibly fond of it and composed a poem in 1788 as follows,
Rhinoceros horn carving flourished in the Ming dynasty,
Masterpieces were made by the You family of Wuxi;
The techniques became sophisticated,
But could not refrain from over decorating;
Artists were ordered to conform to simplicity
To avoid luxury when carving cups;
The motif illustrates the sage's sutra [about relationships between dragons and clouds],
And complements Han Yu's statement in his Miscellaneous Sayings.