See related small jade pebbles carved with animals and rocks, such as two sold in our New York rooms, the first carved with chickens, 11th/12th April 1990, lot 290, and the second with a pair of cranes, from the collection of William and Robert Arnett, 20th March 2012, lot 221; another modelled with monkeys, from the De An Tang collection, included in the exhibition A Romance with Jade, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2004, cat. no. 56, and sold in our London rooms, 7th June 2000, lot 57; and a fourth with a tiger, sold in these rooms, 21st May 1987, lot 650. Compare also a brushrest carved in openwork with phoenix, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 224; another, attributed to the Ming dynasty, from the Guan-fu collection, included in the exhibition Chinese Jades from Han to Ch’ing, The Asia House Gallery, New York, 1980, cat. no. 112; and a third carved with a crane and a deer, sold in our London rooms, 17th October 1978, lot 299, and again in our New York rooms, 27th February 1981, lot 475.
The birds depicted on this piece appear to be mandarin ducks, which are notable for their auspicious meaning. From the Yuan dynasty onwards, depictions of ducks swimming in pairs represented fidelity, marital bliss and happiness, as ducks are said to mate for life. Ducks are also associated with official life, as the name for duck, ya, is written with the radical for jia (first or best), and during the Qing dynasty, mandarin ducks were indicative of civil officials of the seventh rank.
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