Important Chinese Art

Important Chinese Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 297. A carved white jade 'butterfly' tripod censer and cover, Late Qing dynasty | 清末 白玉雕纏枝花卉紋蝶耳活環三足蓋爐.

Property from the Morgan Foundation Collection

A carved white jade 'butterfly' tripod censer and cover, Late Qing dynasty | 清末 白玉雕纏枝花卉紋蝶耳活環三足蓋爐

Auction Closed

September 21, 06:54 PM GMT


200,000 - 300,000 USD

Lot Details


A carved white jade 'butterfly' tripod censer and cover

Late Qing dynasty

清末 白玉雕纏枝花卉紋蝶耳活環三足蓋爐


Length 8½ in., 21.6 cm

American Private Collection.

Christie's New York, 21st March 2013, lot 1361.



This impressive censer exemplifies the creativity and multiple design inspirations of Qing artisans in the latter years of the dynasty. The tripod censer form reflects the trend for archaism, while the floral scrolls and double-butterfly handles recall those seen on auspicious marriage bowls of the 18th and 19th centuries. Multiple loose rings on jade vessels were also an especially popular design characteristic of the late Qing period.

The quality of the jade is exceptional, as evident in the flawless and even white coloration. The material employed for the present vessel most likely came from the jade-rich regions of Khotan and Yarkant, after the Qing military forces conquered the eastern edge of Central Asia in 1759 and incorporated the territories into the Empire. Jade imported from this area was of the best quality, thus allowing Qing carvers to create wares from the purest and brightest white jade.

Compare the flower scrolls on a slightly smaller green jade tripod censer, but lacking the suspended rings, formerly in the collection of Heber R. Bishop, now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no. 02.18.665), included in the Museum's exhibition A Passion for Jade: The Heber Bishop Collection, New York, 2015-6. A small pale green jade tripod censer carved with three loose rings on the cover, decorated with low-relief of dragon designs on the body, is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei (accession no. gu-yu-1520). See also a white jade tripod censer of similar compressed form but lacking a cover, carved with archaic taotie animal masks in low relief on its body, housed in the Palace Museum, Beijing (accession no. gu-103613).

The butterflies on the loop handles of the present vessel embody an auspicious meaning in Chinese art, symbolizing blessings and happiness. The famous story of the philosopher Zhuangzi (d. c. 286 BC), who dreamt that he was a butterfly enjoying a carefree life, flitting between flowers and sipping delicious nectar, is considered a representation of a joyful and content existence.