A white jade seal paste box and cover Yuwan seal mark and period of Qianlong
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 21st May 1987, lot 678.
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 27th October 1993, lot 541.
Collection of Robert Kleiner.
This seal-paste box and cover is remarkable for the purity of the stone which is of brilliant and translucent white colouration. The jade boulder for the box was carefully chosen possibly to create a sharp contrast with the deep vermillion paste it housed. The four-character Qianlong yuwan ('For the Personal Delight of the Qianlong Emperor') mark inscribed on the base confirms that the box was made for the use of the emperor who spent many hours in his private studio writing calligraphy or looking through his vast collection of paintings which he would then approve with his seal dipped in the paste. The mark also indicates that the vessel was used by Qianlong for his own enjoyment and delight, with yuwan ('for Imperial delight') being one of the highest designations along with yushang ('for Imperial appreciation') and yuyong ('for Imperial use'), all of which also designated personal use by the Emperor.
The present box is unusual for its finish as the interior of the box and cover are left unpolished. It has been carved and smoothed but not polished to match the exterior of the box. This finish possibly reflects the emperor's wish to enjoy the jade in its organic form. In its form and size the present box and cover is very similar to a plain covered box, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Masterworks of Chinese Jade in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1973, pl. 39, mounted in a peach-form gold box together with a smaller jade box. Compare another white jade seal-paste box carved with a lychee patterns, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, included in Ming Wilson, Chinese Jades, London, 2004, pl. 66. See also two closely related spinach green jade boxes and covers, illustrated in Chinese Jades: Archaic and Modern, London, 1977, pls. 221 and 222, in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
For a discussion of seal-paste boxes see Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss, Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 230, where the authors mention that the famous Ming dynasty literatus, influential in the development of seal carving, Wen Peng (1498-1573), wrote in his Yinzhang Jishu (Discussions of Seals), that the best seal-paste containers are porcelain or jade as they prevent the paste from spoiling. Boxes made of metal such as gold and silver adulterate the paste after a time and are therefore not suitable. Porous materials such as soapstone need to be waxed so it does not absorb the oil in the paste. Tsang and Moss further mention ibid., p. 230, that from the Ming dynasty the demand for seal-paste and boxes was constant and that the size of the box depended on the size of the seal used.