A rock crystal water vessel Attributed to the Palace Workshops Seal Mark and Period of Qianlong
Acquired in London, 1980.
Water vessels fashioned out of rock crystal are rare although a washer of related bulbous form but raised on four small cabriole feet, attributed to the Qianlong period, from the collection of Mary and George Bloch, was sold in these rooms, 23rd October 2005, lot 18.
The present vessel is characteristic of products made in the Imperial Palace Workshop (Zaobanchu) located in the Forbidden City. The wheel-cut four-character reign mark on the base is typical of the Palace Workshops, appearing across a range of wares made for the Qianlong emperor and the Imperial household. For example, see a miniature aventurine glass rockery with the design of three rams, incised with an almost identical Qianlong seal mark, illustrated in Luster of Autumn Water. Glass of the Qing Imperial Workshop, Beijing, 2004, pl. 94. For a detailed discussion of imperial marks see Hugh Moss and Gerard Tsang, Arts from the Scholar's Studio, op.cit., p. 156, bottom.
One of the earliest records on rock crystal dates from the Tang dynasty (618-907) where it is mentioned as a product of 'water turned into stone' and 'a beautiful material imported from Persia'. Hence the Chinese name shuijing which can be translated as 'the brilliance of water'. Historically, rock crystal has been popular with the literati who associated clear crystal with 'plain beauty' and had various scholars objects made of this material. However, the majority of rock crystal carvings are of the 18th century with pieces made during the Qianlong period most outstanding for their quality of carving and purity of the stone.
For examples of rock crystal carvings see a cup and a vase, both from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Treasures of Imperial Court, Hong Kong, 2004, pls. 22-23. Compare also a brushpot inscribed with the four-character Qianlong yuyong (Made for the Imperial use of the Qianlong Emperor) mark, attributed to the Palace Workshops, included in the Fung Ping Shan Museum exhibition, op.cit., cat. no. 130.
Water vessels of related form can be found made of glass; for example see an opaque white glass water container overlaid with a red glass floral design published in Luster of Autumn Water. Glass of the Qing Imperial Workshop, op. cit., 2005, pl. 62; and another vessel decorated with a dragon motif, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in Zhongguo meishu quanji, vol. 10, Beijing, 1987, pl. 274.