Modelled with eight lobes to recall a blooming flower, the present agate bowl is exceptional for its beautiful colouration and translucent quality. Agate, with rippling layers of colours ranging from bright honey to coffee brown, is one of several hard stones that were valued as much as jade and first used in China no later than the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).
The current bowl, carved from a stone of exceptional quality, ranks among the finest examples recorded in museum and private collections. A slightly smaller example (13.5 cm), also of an eight-lobed mallow form, but incised on the base with a four-character Yongzheng mark, is in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and illustrated in Harmony and Integrity. The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2009, cat. no. II-63, together with a Yongzheng-marked six-lobed example, cat. no. II-64, and six other bowls of various forms, cat. nos II-61, 62, 65-68.
The inspiration of this elegant form with subtle indentations can be traced back to early metalwork. See a parcel-gilt silver bowl with five petal lobes, dated to the Tang dynasty, 8th to 9th century, included in the exhibition Chinese Gold and Silver in the Carl Kempe Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1954-1955, cat. no. 116, and sold in our London rooms, 14th May 2008, lot 74.