This charming box is notable for the combination of plumage and geometric motifs that adorn its body. The smooth contours of the body and naturalistic face provide an attractive contrast with the archaistic angular bands of decoration. Early bird-form boxes are rare and more appear to have been produced from the Ming dynasty; see a goose-form box and cover sold at Christie’s New York, 31st December 1992, lot 51; and a quail-form example attributed to the 17th century, from the collection of Gerald Godfrey and included in the exhibition Chinese Jades from Han to Ch’ing, Asia House Gallery, New York, 1980, cat. no. 134. The present box, however, is unusual for the stepped foot. Compare a yellow jade carving of a duck, attributed to the Southern Song period, in the National Palace Museum, included in the Museum’s exhibition Dynastic Renaissance. Art and Culture of the Southern Song, Taipei, 2010, cat. no. III-36.
This box stems from a long tradition of employing the duck as a vessel form, first produced as a censer in the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220), which also was similarly made in two sections; see one formerly in the collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer and now in the Portland Art Museum, illustrated in Donald Jenkins, Mysterious Spirits, Strange Beasts, Earthly Delights. Early Chinese Art from the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection, Portland Art Museum, Portland, 2005, pp 80-81; and another in the form of a pigeon, from the Rutherston collection, published in Albert J. Koop, Early Chinese Bronzes, London, 1924, pl. 59b.