Aquamarine; well hollowed, with a flat lip and irregular, flat foot, and carved in the form of a vessel with a single loop-and-ring handle beneath which a chi dragon coils, one end of its bifid tail curled under the ring, the other main side carved with an inscription in seal script, Xinji shuangqing ('Heart and deeds both pure') Probably imperial, 17501860 Height: 5.64 cm Mouth/lip: 0.4/1.0 cm Stopper: garnet; gilt-silver collar
Condition: indentation on front main side near foot that is probably original to remove flaws but could conceivable be a subsequent chip ground out; two tiny adjacent chips on the inner lip; tiny chip on the simulated ring hanging from the loop on the main side with the chi dragon. General relative condition: very good
Provenance: Kaynes-Klitz Collection Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 3 November 1994, lot 839
Published: Treasury 3, no. 411
Commentary There are compelling reasons to believe that this may have been an imperial bottle, possibly made at the court, although precious stones were also carved for the court at Suzhou and Yangzhou. Apart from the chi dragon, which is an established courtly design of the Qing dynasty and particularly of the eighteenth century (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 99), the form here refers to the ancient bronze culture, so much a part of decorative inspiration at the palace.
This elongated oval form is not a bronze form; it is a variation on the meiping ('prunus blossom vase') so popular at court as a snuff-bottle form (see discussion under Treasury 1, no. 92). Added to this, however, is a loop and simulated loose-ring handle of the type found on ancient bronze vessels and reproduced on enormous numbers of Qing courtly arts, including a large number of jade vessels of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Yet one more indication of a palace source is the deep foot. The walls are unusually thinly hollowed for a precious stone bottle, but there is a deliberately deep foot. Although this may have been designed to present some of the original depth of colour, which it does admirably, it is probably simply a stylistic quirk and one we have established as being courtly, and typical of the palace workshops (see under Treasury 1, no. 75).
The conception is delightful, as is the execution. The lovely, even-coloured material, the colour and purity of which is best seen in the deeper foot area, has been carved with a lively chi dragon that dives down the bottle but has its head turned to look back up towards the neck. One end of its bifid tail curls beneath the rounded rectangular ring that hangs from the single loop-handle in an amusing touch that suggests that the beast is hooked onto it. On the other side, the inscription is superbly carved in relief seal script with considerable calligraphic grace and complete confidence. The wording comes from a poem by Du Fu, but it was and still is a common short text for the calligrapher.