Agate is a rare material that naturally forms when the iron content from the earth’s surface is suffused within cooled down lava. This specific type, distinctive for its striking vermillion-red colour, is categorised as nanhong (‘south red’) in Chinese, as such material was only available in the southwest part of China, modern-day Yunnan province. Such quality of carnelian agate was among the semi-precious stones prized by the Qing court and was more frequently utilised for the production of playthings, snuff bottles and other small intricately carved scholar’s objects during the 18th century, when the art of agate carving reached its unprecedented height.
See a small double vase carved with the Three Friends of Winter, from the collections of George de Menasce and Pierre de Menasce, included in the exhibition Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975, cat. no. 491, and sold in these rooms, 7th October 2015, lot 3746; and a vase in the form of a tree trunk, rendered with finger citrons, pomegranates and peaches, from the T.Y. Chao family collection, sold in these rooms, 30th November/1st December 2017, lot 362. Further agate animal carvings of related red-white colour scheme include a waterdropper in the shape of a crane, from the collection of Heber R. Bishop and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession no. 02.18.876a,b; and a figure of a water buffalo with a small chimera seated on its back, sold in our New York rooms, 27th February 1981, lot 345.
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