Gilt silver cups with ring handles like the one pictured have been found in small numbers in the Sogdian homelands of Central Asia. Located in the region of modern Samarkand, Sogdiana was the center of an eastern Iranian culture that flourished from the sixth through eighth centuries as a result of lucrative trade along the Silk Road. Possessing beaded borders, floral scrolls, and ring-punching, this particular example illustrates classic elements of the Eastern School of Sogdian metalwork defined by the specialist Boris Marshak.
Such stemmed cups were introduced to China by the early sixth century, and for almost three hundred years continued to be produced alongside examples that were increasingly Chinese in style. Thus, the late seventh-century gold and gilt silver faceted cups with thumb rests discovered in the imperial Chinese hoard at Hejiacun, Xi’an, appear to be of foreign manufacture or made in Sogdian workshops in China; the same is true of the ninth-century octagonal gold cup with Central Asian performers that was probably made in China but was found in the Belitung shipwreck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Among classic Chinese examples, round forms are covered with bird and flower patterns and the flat thumb rest is replaced by a more sinuous handle. An exquisite example is in the Freer Gallery (F1930.51).
The newly acquired Sogdian cup was purportedly unearthed in Luoyang, Henan, before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and was in the collection of Carl Kempe (1884–1967), Ekolsund, Sweden, from the mid-1950s if not before. More recently, it was owned by the Idemitsu Art Museum, Tokyo.