OBJECTS FOR THE SCHOLAR'S DESK, Hong Kong 2023
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Playthings

A PALE CELADON JADE ARCHAISTIC HINGE FITTING

QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD (1735-1796)

HEIGHT (COLLAPSED): 9.2CM; LENGTH (EXPANDED): 18.6CM

The fitting is comprised of two hollowed tubular structures of square sections, each terminating in round discs secured and hinged by metal pins to a central pivot, forming a mechanism to lock the fitting in place as well as extended to a straight line. The front and back each worked in low relief with a stylised taotie mask enclosed within archaistic scrollwork. The sides and the central pivot are similarly decorated with further stylised C-shaped scrolls. The translucent stone is of a pale celadon tone.

The present example is among the shapes commissioned in jade by Emperor Qianlong from bronze prototypes in the imperial publication completed in 1751 entitled Xiqing Gujuan 西清古鑑, Chapter 38, Compiled 1751, Edition of 1908. The materialisation of this sophisticated hinge mechanism from antiquity through this exceptional jade fitting is unquestionably a testament to the technological excellence achieved by the imperial workshops during Qianlong’s reign.

Closely related examples bearing Qianlong fanggu 乾隆仿古 marks from notable world class museum collections include one from the Palace Museum Beijing, illustrated in Story of a Brand Name: The Collection and Packaging Aesthetics of Emperor Qianlong in the Eighteenth Century 品牌的故事—乾隆皇帝的文物收藏 與包裝藝術, Taipei, 2017, pp. 240-241, Essay Illustration No. 25; and a spinach green jade example in the Victoria and Albert Museum published in Ming Wilson, Chinese Jades , London, 2004, pp. 106-107, Catalogue No. 104.

Although the function of these fittings remains unknown, it has been speculated that they may have been used as a measuring device, as suggested by Qianlong’s reference to the aforementioned Palace Museum example as a yuchi 玉尺 (jade ruler) in the notes 詩註 of his imperial poem 〈題玉尺詩〉 inscribed on the piece itself and its original zitan stand. The imperial poem dated to the wushen 戊申 year (1788) further connected metaphorically the notion of precise measuring with the Confucius value of jieju 絜矩, symbolic of the sovereign under a fair benevolent ruler. The present piece could therefore serve as a memento of Qianlong Emperor’s obsession with classical antiquity as well as his unspoken eagerness to manifest himself as a scrupulous and compassionate ruler of the Han Chinese.

清乾隆 青白玉仿古獸面紋雙筒式尺