The Qianlong emperor was a renaissance man whose generous patronage of the arts exceeded even that of his grandfather, the Kangxi emperor (reigned 1662–1722). Over the fifty-nine years of his formal reign, the Manchu ruler’s imperial workshops produced a prodigious number of commissions ranging from ink paintings and enameled porcelains to bronze bells and jade sculptures. The designs of the latter perhaps best exemplify the innovations so characteristic of his reign, specifically the fusion of contemporary craftsmanship with traditional, archaic forms.
This simple, elegant bowl is carved out of a single boulder of white nephrite from Khotan. Its smooth, rounded sides rise gently from a short ring foot to terminate at a flaring, flat rim. The tondo is decorated in raised relief with a peaceful motif of fish meandering amid lotus flowers, long a symbolic reference to prosperity and an abundance of progeny. This classic motif is replicated around the exterior of the bowl, the crisp relief providing a subtle contrast to the translucence of the thinly carved walls. The base is inscribed with a four-character Qianlong reign mark, Qianlong nian zhi (made in the Qianlong reign), in Chinese regular script. This mark indicates that the overall decorative scheme of this work—through augmenting an archaic bowl form with intricate raised relief—clearly found favor with the imperial administration.