the variegated brown and cream coloured antelope horn hilt bound at either end with a beaded 18K gold band inset with turquoise, the blade of steel and damascene gilding, inscribed on the spine of the knife in inlaid gold wire with the four-character mark Qianlong nianzhi, the gilt metal scabbard of slightly tapered form densely decorated on both side in diaper pattern with further turquoise cabochons, the ends similarly bound in a gilt band inset with turquoise, one side with a chased gilt loop linked with a small loose ring for attachment
Knife hilts made of gold and turquoise are rare, although a comparable knife with a rhinoceros horn sheath carved with the design of dragons among clouds inlaid in turquoise from the collection of Dr. Ip Yee was sold in these rooms, 19th November 1984, lot 63, and later again from The Water, Pine and Stone Retreat Collection on 8th October 2009, lot 1817, and illustrated in Thomas Fok, Connoisseurship of Rhinoceros Horn carving in China, Hong Kong, 1999, pl. 180. Another one from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carving, Hong Kong, 2002, pl. 211. The exceptional workmanship and highly decorative quality of these knives suggest they are products of the Palace Workshop where military and hunting weapons were made for the emperor and his family.
Knives of this type appear to originally have been hunting knives which were designed for use in the wilderness. Its function was altered to a degree, although it continued to be used on hunts, when it became part of the Manchu ceremonial attire as well as being used at meals, an indication of the bearer's Manchu identity. Manchu men cut their meat themselves so as not to fall into the decadent Han habit of eating their meat pre-cut.Compare a gold knife with a scabbard inlaid with turquoise, coral and lazurite, the handle of carved jade, inscribed with a Qianlong reign mark and of the period, included in the exhibition Splendours of China's Forbidden City, The Field Museum, Chicago, 2004, cat. no. 248, where it is noted that when eating sacrificial pork, women were also expected to cut their own meat. The same knife appears as part of a table setting in situ, which is a reconstruction of an imperial banquet table, ibid., pl. 230.
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