This elegant vessel, modelled after a Buddhist alms bowl, is skilfully carved in low relief with bajixiang, or 'Eight Auspicious Emblems'. Both the form and design suggests that it was probably made for a religious altar or for use in ritual ceremonies. Jade alms bowls, such as the present lot, are recorded as being made for imperial Buddhist temples. In 1757, during a tour to the South, the Qianlong Emperor highly praised an alms bowl at the Kaiyuan Temple in Suzhou and ordered similar vessels to be made in jade for imperial altars.
Groups of eight symbols were originally used in ancient India in religious ceremonies and at occasions such as the enthronement of kings. The symbols evolved over time with different objects falling in and out of favour. The Eight Buddhist symbols represent the offerings presented to Shakyamuni by the gods upon his enlightenment, and entered China around the time of the Yuan dynasty. These symbols can be found thereafter on ceramics and other types of artworks. By the Qing dynasty, as seen on the present bowl, the combination and the order of the symbols has been standardised: the Wheel of Law, the Conch, the Standard of Victory, the Parasol, the Lotus, the Vase, the Twin Fish and the Endless Knot.
A slightly smaller white jade alms bowl similarly decorated with bajixiang, from the collection of Sir Framjee Dinshaw Petit, 3rd Baronet, and Lady Syla Dinshaw Petit, was sold at Christie's London, 8th November 2011, lot 194; and a slightly larger example from the collection of Millicent Rogers, but the base carved with waves, was sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 28th November 2012, lot 2127. Compare also a few celadon and spinach-green jade alms bowls from the Qing court collection, preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum. Jade, vol. 9: Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2011, pls 279-283.