Nephrite; extremely well hollowed, with a concave lip and slightly rounded rectangular, concave foot; incised on each side with a series of raised shou ('longevity') characters in highly formalized seal script, partially covered by a brocade, with incised petal diaper pattern bordered by bands of leiwen, loosely tied in a knot on one side 17301860 Height: 6.75 cm Mouth/lip: 0.58/2.21 cm Stopper: tourmaline; chalcedony finial; jadeite collar
Condition: Barely perceptible chip to outer lip; otherwise, workshop condition
Provenance: Hugh M. Moss Ltd. (Hong Kong, 1994)
Published: Treasury 1, no. 28
This is one of a large group of hardstone bottles with a distinctive carving style. This example is whiter and purer than most of the group, which tended to favour a greenish-white nephrite that was not inherently so valuable a material. The school also carved in crystal and chalcedony.
The group is characterized by a preference for this flattened shape with a widely flared neck and impressive hollowing; otherwise, the most prominent artistic feature is a tendency to demonstrate less-than-perfect control of the medium on often incredibly complex and detailed subjects, many of them simple, repetitive patterns, such as those used here. In combination with the extraordinary hollowing, formal integrity and often remarkable thinness of the bottles themselves, the slightly rudimentary quality of carving of decorative details seems out of place.
The diaper pattern, which on some examples is the sole decoration, is entirely made up of repeated, interlocking oval petals, and it is the perfect choice for this style of carving and a standard for the group. The probable reason for the frequent choice of these repetitive designs is that if the school lacked great artists but had excellent craftsmen, then such designs would be ideal. They appear to be very complicated and difficult to achieve, but in fact it is simply a matter of painstaking, mechanical repetition.
The somewhat mechanical approach is also visible in the leiwen borders which are probably intended to be continuous, but it is impossible to tell because the incised lines are not descriptive enough, the carver having resorted to a mechanical repetition of a series of straight incisions at right angles to each other. The result is visually impressive and a delight in the hand, particularly with this satisfying and unusually generous form, but magnification reveals the decoration to be the work more of a craftsman rather than a master artist.
For other examples of this school of carving, see Geng and Zhao 1992, no. 254; Moss 1971, nos. 60 and 61 (where they are linked to a much broader school); Au Hang 1993, no. 106, and Moss 1971a, no. 29.