Posts Tagged horn

Horns of plenty

Christie's Images Ltd 2008HUNTING for rhinoceros in the 16th century was quite a business. There were no sporting rifles or telescopic sights. Instead the animals, short-sighted and short-fused, were trapped in holes in the forests of Java, Sumatra and India and killed with sticks.

Still, it was worth the effort. Rhinos were thought to be related to the unicorn, and their amber-hued horn was believed to crack or change colour if it came into contact with poison. This made rhinoceros horn much sought after for drinking cups. The raw material was more costly than gold, and only the finest carvers were commissioned to work on it.

Many cups have been ground down over time for the supposed medicinal properties of the horn, but about 4,000 survive. Most are in museums in France, Britain and Israel, as well as Ireland, where the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin has probably the most beautiful collection in the world.

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