The custom among the literati (educated elite) in China of collecting and displaying rocks of bizarre shapes in their studios became the foundation for the practice, during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), of having mountains reproduced in jade. These mountains were often decorated with landscape scenes reflecting an idyllic countryside with trees, figures of sages, and running streams, themes much like those found in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. These works appealed equally to the followers of Confucianism, which stresses the merits of discipline and formal purity, and Daoism, which finds, in the freedom of natural forms, a more perfect expression.
Fashioned from a single boulder of nephrite, this miniature mountain is remarkable for its massiveness and the lapidary’s retention of its natural skin of russet brown contrasting with the grayish green core. The brown skin has been cleverly fashioned into stylized clouds. The celadon-colored interior shows through in both the front and back (fig. 29), and is configured in deep relief to depict a group of scholars gathered in a glade. The contrast between these serene figures and the jagged rocks and twisted pine trees that surround them is as compelling as are the natural colors of the nephrite itself.