Xi’an, 25 Apr (Xinhua) — The silk-encrusted agate inlaid gold wine vessel, which resembles a cow and sheep, came from the Tang Dynasty through a thousand years of time, but it carries a strong exotic atmosphere. Rich in the materials of the Western Regions, commonly found in Central and West Asian vessels, this treasure containing the code of Silk Road cultural integration is the Tang gold-encrusted beast head agate cup. Where does it come from? Who is its owner? What kind of fine wine is worthy of it, which is worth a lot… The fog not only adds to its mystery, but also makes many scholars pursue it.
The Tang gold-encrusted beast head agate cup, unearthed in 1970 in Hejia Village, Xi’an, Shaanxi, is listed as one of the precious cultural relics prohibited from leaving the country in China. This is the only piece of silk agate carving seen in the Tang Dynasty, the angular cup body is carved from a single extremely rare piece of red silk agate, the whole cup body is 6.5 cm high, 15.6 cm long, and 5.6 cm in diameter. The jade material of the agate cup is rare with a red tone, and there is a layer of silk agate with a slightly rosy milky white sandwich in the middle.
The carver has the ingenuity to carve the thick end of agate into the mouth of the cup and the fine end into the head of the beast. The beast’s eyes were wide open, looking ahead. The two horns are thick and powerful, connecting the two ends of the cup body and becoming the handle of the onyx cup. The mouth part of the animal is made of gold to make a gold cap plug, remove the gold cap, and the jelly in the cup can be leaked spontaneously; The beast’s lips are closed, its nose is bulging, and even the pores and beard on its lips are depicted with subtle precision. The golden beak contrasts with the overall dark red agate, making up for the lack of dark agate color, and the ingenious design reveals a strong artistic atmosphere.
According to Yang Xiaojun, a research librarian at the Shaanxi History Museum, the material of the beast head agate cup is “silk agate”, which is abundant in the Western Regions, that is, the area west of today’s Yumen Pass. Starting from the Wei and Jin dynasties, agate products from the Western Regions flowed into the Central Plains of China and were very popular with the upper class at that time. The Tang Dynasty was the heyday of the Silk Road, and onyx vessels from the Western Regions continued to flow into China in the form of tributes. At the same time, cultural exchanges along the Silk Roads became more frequent.
Experts believe that the shape of the gold-encrusted onyx cup is similar to the wine ware “Laitong” that originated in ancient Greece, and people at that time believed that the “Laitong” wine glass was a sacred relic and that it could prevent poisoning by filling it with wine, and if you raised the “Laitong” to drink the wine, it was a tribute to the god of wine.
“‘Laitong’ was also widely popular in Central Asia and West Asia. Along the Silk Road, ‘Laitong’ continued to spread eastward, and different ethnic groups and regions also integrated into their own cultures, creating different forms of ‘Laitong’. Judging from the strong exotic style of the beast head agate cup, it is not a traditional Chinese utensil. Studies have shown that it is mainly influenced by the Sogdian ‘Laitong’, and unlike the erectity of ancient Greece, its overall shape is relatively gentle and soft. Yang Xiaojun said.
Where exactly does the Onyx cup come from? There are still many opinions. Some say that it is a tribute from the Western Regions; Some say that the agate material came for tribute to the Western Regions, but the carving was made by the hands of craftsmen in the Tang Dynasty, and it was a masterpiece that imitated the exotic style…
Who is the owner of the Onyx Cup? There is no definitive statement yet. Many scholars have put forward different views, and some experts believe that this gold-encrusted beast head agate cup is a property in the palace of the king, which may have been hastily buried during the “Anshi Rebellion” and later failed to dig up, so it was retained until modern times. Some experts believe that this cup belongs to Liu Zhen, the envoy of the Tang Dynasty, and Liu Zhen’s residence is in the “Xinghuafang” where Hejia Village is located.
What kind of agate cup should be filled with such exquisite craftsmanship and legendary life? It may be the popular “grape wine” of the Tang Dynasty. As early as the Han Dynasty, grapes and wine were introduced to China via the Silk Road. In the early Tang Dynasty, according to the “Yuangui of the Book of Records”, after the Tang people pacified Gaochang (present-day Turpan), they introduced Gaochang’s horse’s milk grapes and their winemaking methods into Chang’an, and Emperor Taizong personally supervised the production, imitating the Western Regions to produce eight colors of wine.
However, some poets believe that a cup with a “fairy appearance” should be accompanied by a more “cool” drink. The Ming Dynasty scholar Huang Province once praised the agate cup: “The immortals will take the guique to drink the flowing xia.” “Sure enough, the mysterious and beautiful agate cup, which is used by immortals to hold the flowing clouds in the sky, is the most suitable.