PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT COLLECTION
Screens such as the present piece were seldom created before the Qianlong period due to the rarity of large flawless pieces of jade, and were fashioned from carefully chosen highly translucent stones, which would enhance the differing depths of the carved pictorial scene. The particular challenge presented to carvers of jade table screens was to compose two different designs for each side that would not interfere with but rather enhance the other when light was shone through. Thus the viewer could easily be transported into the tranquil and inviting landscapes such as the present.
The Qianlong Emperor advocated that jade mountains and carved panels should carry the spirit of paintings by famous masters of the past. It is recorded that a number of classical paintings from the Emperor's own collection was ordered to be reproduced in jade, such as the celebrated painting Travellers in the Mountains, by the eminent Five Dynasties painter Guan Tong (907-960). The sense of harmony between the figures and the vast landscape in this panel is a good example of the type of carving the Qianlong Emperor envisioned.
The three boys carved on this plaque carry further auspicious meaning. While boys at play were frequently depicted from the Ming dynasty to represent the wish for many noble sons, also referenced in the millet which symbolises fertility, the number three is also significant. In Daoism, three symbolises the three elements of heaven, earth and human being, and an old Chinese proverb encapsulates the importance of three: "The wisdom of three ordinary people exceeds that of the wisest individual".
Similarly carved white jade screens of circular form, the figural scene also framed within swirling clouds, include two from the De An Tang collection, included in the exhibition, A Romance of Jade from the De An Tang Collection, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2004, cat. nos. 25 and 26; and a pair, one from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, and the other from the Frederick Knight collection, illustrated in Robert Kleiner, Chinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 123, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2007, lot 1511. See also a screen sold three times in these rooms, 16th November 1989, lot 640, 9th October 2007, lot 1579, and 8th October 2013, lot 3042; and another sold in our London rooms, 28th October 1988, lot 285.
Jade plaques were often paired with vibrantly enamelled stands, providing an attractive contrast to the monochrome jade, of which the present is a particularly sumptuous example. Ornately embellished with elaborate gilt-bronze scrolls, it clearly reveals the Western rococo influence that was popular in the Qianlong court. As characteristic of contemporary imperial porcelain designs, Western motifs have been combined with traditional Chinese elements, seen here through the lotus panel and lotus petals. A green jade plaque, mounted on a similarly opulent gilt-bronze stand embellished with cloisonné enamel, from the collection of Sir John Mullens and included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Chinese Jade throughout the Ages, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975, cat. no. 412, was sold in our London rooms, 8th June 1982, lot 322.
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