Marriage bowls were popular during the Qianlong period, and the production of such vessels was only possible due to the quantity of high-quality jade boulders of this large size that were available during his reign. They take their name from their auspicious imagery, the designs of which vary greatly, which combine to allude to felicitous wishes for a long and happy married life and were thus often presented on the occasion of a wedding. The two handles were also carved with a range of motifs that cleverly resemble two facing butterflies when viewed from the top to represent a joyful encounter and hence marital bliss. The handles of the present marriage bowl are carved with two bats (shuang fu) to indicate double blessings.
Four-character Qianlong nianzhi (‘Made during the Qianlong period’) reign marks written in clerical script, as seen on this vessel, can be found on a number of imperial wares from the Qing Court collection. For similar examples, see a spinach-green jade brushpot illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures from the Palace Museum. Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 168; and a white jade censer and cover published in Zhongguo yuqi quanji, vol. 6, Shijiazhuang, 1993, pls. 351 and 352.
The quality of the jade material tentatively places it in the second part of the Qianlong reign, after the Western campaigns which subjugated the Dzungars and secured control over the area of Khotan and Yarkand, in present day Xinjiang, where the finest nephrite was mined. Prior to the conquest, jade came in relatively small boulders to the Imperial Workshops and many poems of the emperor deplore the scarcity of the material, but thereafter large quantities were imported each year as tribute.