A FINE PALE CELADON JADE ‘QUAIL AND MILLET’ RUYI SCEPTRE QING DYNASTY, 18TH/19TH CENTURY
- 40cm., 15 ¾ in.
Collection of Dr Ernst Winkler, acquired in the 1940-1950s.
Symbolic of the wish suisui ping’an (‘May you have peace year after year’), the quail and millet motif is found on a white jade sceptre, encrusted with precious stones, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, published in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 30. Sceptres with scenes of birds and plants include one from the T.Y. Chao collection, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 18th November 1986, lot 191; and a smaller example from the Robert H. Blumenfield collection, sold at Christie’s New York, 22nd March 2012, lot 1229.
The history of sceptres dates back to the pre-Tang (518-907) times, with its origins possibly connected to Buddhism. Originally used as back-scratchers, which are often depicted in the hands of Buddhist holy figures, the ruyi sceptre became a talisman that was presented to bestow good fortune. Its shape changed over time and from the latter half of the Tang dynasty, when there was a temporary decline in Buddhism, Daoist followers adopted it as their auspicious object. From that time onwards, the heart-shaped head was often rendered as a lingzhi fungus, a symbol of longevity. It was during the reign of the Yongzheng emperor (1722-1735), that the auspicious tradition of the ruyi (literally meaning ‘as you wish’) was revived and became an imperial object. Since the sceptre had no practical function and could take on any shape of form deemed suitable to express good wishes, it was the perfect imperial gift. For a more detailed discussion of the history of this good luck charm see the exhibition catalogue Auspicious Ju-I Sceptres of China, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1995, pp 86-90.