of baluster form supported on a flared foot, the ovoid body with high shoulders rising to a waisted neck with galleried rim, flanked by a pair of elaborately carved 'C'-shaped handles embellished with flowers, the body finely carved in low relief to each side with a central shou character above a lotus blossom on scrolling leafy stems spreading out across the body, flanked on either side by a pair of highly stylised fish, all between pendant and upright overlapping leaf bands, the neck with florets and leafy scrolls above 'C'-shaped scrolls and a band of beads around the shoulder, all below a keyfret band and ruyi heads around the rim, the foot encircled by pendent leaves and florets above a further keyfret
The exquisite carving and pre-eminent quality of this ivory vase suggests an imperial commissioning or a palace workshop attribution of the Qianlong period. Vases carved of ivory are rare and this piece is unique for its rich and deep carving and for the design of four stylised fish in relief with the tails forming a prominently part of the overall shape of the vessel. No other related example appears to be recorded although similar design elements can be found on an intricately carved ivory box, also attributed to the Yazuo (Ivory Workshop) in the Forbidden City, included in the exhibition Chinese Ivories from the Shang to the Qing, British Museum, London, 1984, cat.no. 190; and on an ivory vessel in the form of an archaic bronze he, ibid., cat.no. 208. See also a large ivory hexagonal vase offered at Christie's Hong Kong, 30th April 1995, lot 524, ornately carved with related handles.
The Yazuo was one of the 42 workshops within the Zaobanchu (Manufacturing Bureau) under the governance of the Neiwufu (Imperial Household Department). All ivory carvings for the use of the imperial family were carried out in the Yazuo, although it is known that the palace also commissioned pieces from famous carvers working in Suzhou. Craig Clunas in his article 'Ming and Qing Ivories: Useful and Ornamental Pieces', ibid., p. 121, notes that 'the Qianlong emperor was known to hold the view that in many cases the jade carvers of Suzhou surpassed those of the workshops in his own palace.' The inscription on the base of this vase may be an indication that the piece was made in Suzhou or by a carver from Suzhou working in the Palace workshop.
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